As often as not, the decision whether to treat or deny treatment to any elderly patient with cancer is a result of an oncologist’s impression of the individual person’s ability to benefit from and withstand the side effects of therapy. And that decision is usually based on a clinical assessment that is far more intuitive than it is scientific.
Breast cancer is predominantly a disease of older women. Many of these older patients with breast cancer have low-risk disease owing to low proliferation indices, positive hormone receptors, node-negativity, or p53-negative and HER-2 (human epidermal growth factor 2)-negative tumors.[1,2] They do well without chemotherapy and will receive adjuvant hormonal therapy with tamoxifen or an aromatase inhibitor. Yet there are older women who do not have these favorable tumor characteristics and so are potential candidates for chemotherapy. The review by Muss points out this issue, highlighting benefits of chemotherapy and describing appropriate treatment regimens for these patients.
Dr. Hy Muss is a well recognized expert in the treatment of elderly women with breast cancer, and his article “Adjuvant Chemotherapy of Breast Cancer in the Older Woman” is an extremely important addition to the limited existing literature on this topic. As he points out, nearly half of all breast cancer diagnoses occur in women over 65 years of age. As the total number of women in that demographic increases with the aging of our population, medical oncologists will be faced with a growing number of elderly breast cancer patients, for whom evidence-based recommendations on treatment are needed. As any medical oncologist who sits face-to-face with these older women knows, it is not acceptable to simply tell the patient that there are inadequate data to guide recommendations for adjuvant chemotherapy in her age group, though this is what the EBCTCG (Early Breast Cancer Trialists Collaborative Group) overview has concluded.
Pain in older cancer patients is a common event, and many times it is undertreated. Barriers to cancer pain management in the elderly include concerns about the use of medications, the atypical manifestations of pain in the elderly, and side effects related to opioid and other analgesic drugs. The care of older cancer patients experiencing pain involves a comprehensive assessment, which includes evaluation for conditions that may exacerbate or be exacerbated by pain, affecting its expression, such as emotional and spiritual distress, disability, and comorbid conditions. It is important to use appropriate tools to evaluate pain and other symptoms that can be related to it. Pain in older cancer patients should be managed in an interdisciplinary environment using pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic interventions whose main goals are decreasing suffering and improving quality of life. In this two-part article, the authors present a review of the management of pain in older cancer patients, emphasizing the roles of adequate assessment and a multidisciplinary team approach.
Pharmion Corporation announced final data from a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase III trial demonstrating that the addition of thalidomide (Thalomid) to standard treatment improves survival by 17.6 months in patients over age 75 newly diagnosed with multiple myeloma compared to standard treatment, consisting of melphalan and prednisone (MP) alone.
KIM DITTUS, MD, PhD
Clinical Instructor of Medicine
University of Vermont
Hematology Oncology Unit
HYMAN B. MUSS, MD
Professor of Medicine
University of Vermont
Hematology Oncology Unit
, December 1, 2007
By the year 2030 most patients with breast cancer will be aged 65 years or more and many will be frail. Frailty implies diminished physiologic reserve; contributors include diminished organ function, comorbidities, impaired physical function, and geriatric syndromes. Time-efficient tools for assessing frailty are being developed and, once validated, can be used to identify frail cancer patients and help direct therapy. Screening mammography in frail patients is questionable, and a clinical breast exam is likely to identify breast cancers that warrant intervention. Hormonal therapy may be a reasonable primary therapy in older frail women with hormone receptor–positive lesions. For estrogen receptor– and progesterone receptor–negative lesions, excision of the primary tumor may be adequate. Adjuvant hormonal therapy may be appropriate in frail elders with high-risk hormone receptor–positive breast cancer; chemotherapy is rarely indicated regardless of tumor status. The majority of frail elders with metastases will have hormone receptor–positive breast cancers, and endocrine therapy should be considered; those with receptor-negative tumors may be treated with single-agent chemotherapy or supportive care measures. Oncologists need to acquire the skills to appropriately identify frail elders so they select appropriate therapies that will minimize toxicity and maintain quality of life.
OSCAR BALLESTER, MD
Edwards Comprehensive Cancer Center
Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall University
Huntington, West Virginia
, November 15, 2007
Hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) transplantation may improve outcomes of patients with hematologic malignancies not curable with conventional therapies. In some clinical settings, transplantation represents the only curative option. The feasibility and efficacy of this approach in older patients are undefined, since this population has been excluded from nearly all clinical trials. Advances in supportive care, HSC harvesting, and safer conditioning regimens have made this therapy available to patients well into their 6th and 7th decades of life. Recent evidence suggests that elderly patients with good performance status and no comorbidities could, in fact, not only survive the transplant with reasonable risk, but also benefit in the same measure as younger patients.
VICKI A. MORRISON, MD
Associate Professor of Medicine
University of Minnesota
Hematology/Oncology & Infectious Disease
VA Medical Center
, August 1, 2007
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is one of a few malignancies that have been increasing in incidence over the past several decades. Likewise, these disorders are more common in elderly patients, with a median age of occurrence of 65 years. Therapy in elderly patients may be affected by multiple factors, especially attendant comorbidities. The approaches to management of these patients, with either indolent or aggressive disease processes, have been based on prospective clinical trial results, many of which have included a younger patient population. Fortunately, over the past decade, results of treatment trials that have targeted an older patient population have emerged. The disease incidence and treatment approaches for both follicular (part 1 of this article) and diffuse aggressive (part 2) histologies in elderly patients are reviewed, as well as the impact of aging on the care of these patients.
With improved prognosis for patients with Hodgkin's lymphoma (HL), interest has increasingly focused on high-risk groups such as elderly patients. Advanced age at presentation is still one of the strongest negative risk factors. Many different factors influence the prognosis in elderly patients. These include biologic differences such as more aggressive histology, different distribution of disease, more frequent diagnosis of advanced stage, and shorter history of disease. In addition, however, aging itself and associated factors such as comorbidity, reduced tolerability of conventional therapy, more severe toxicity and treatment-related deaths, failure to maintain dose intensity, shorter survival after relapse, and death due to other causes contribute to the poorer outcome in elderly patients. Besides the evaluation of specific causes and risk factors, this review highlights recent and ongoing studies for elderly patients with HL as well as international approaches and recommendations for this age group.
This paper provides an overview of several prominent articles and empirical studies on supportive care and cancer-related costs faced by older cancer patients. It focuses primarily on individuals 65 years of age and over and reviews several types of cancer.
ARTI HURRIA, MD
Director, Cancer and Aging Research Program
City of Hope Cancer Center
, March 1, 2007
The risk of cancer increases with age, and as the US population rapidly ages, the number of older adults seeking treatment for cancer is also increasing dramatically. However, this growing population of older adults has been underrepresented in clinical trials that set the standards for oncology care. In addition, most clinical trials conducted to date have not addressed the problems that accompany aging, including reduced physiologic reserve, changes in drug pharmacokinetics, and the impact of comorbid medical conditions and polypharmacy on treatment tolerance. As a result, there are variations in treatment patterns between older and younger adults and few evidence-based guidelines accounting for the changes in physiology or pharmacokinetics that occur with aging. This article examines the demographics of cancer and aging, the barriers to enrollment of older adults on clinical trials, and approaches for future trials to address the needs of the older patient.
LODOVICO BALDUCCI, MD
Professor of Oncology and Medicine
Director of the Division of Geriatric Oncology
Department of Interdisciplinary Oncology
University of South Florida College of Medicine and
H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center
, January 1, 2007
Anemia raises special concerns in older cancer patients. This review addresses the prevalence, causes, and mechanisms of anemia in older individuals, the complications of anemia in this population (including its impact on cancer treatment), and the appropriate management of anemia in the elderly.
LODOVICO BALDUCCI, MD
Professor of Medicine
Senior Adult Oncology
H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute
, December 1, 2006
The chemotherapy of most cancers may be beneficial to older individuals as long as patients are selected on the basis of their life expectancy and functional reserve, conditions that may interfere with the tolerance of chemotherapy are corrected, and adequate doses of chemotherapy are administered. Prevention of neutropenia-related infection may both improve the outcome of cancer and reduce the risk of toxic deaths in older patients. The prophylactic use of myelopoietic growth factors is recommended in individuals aged 65 and older when the risk of chemotherapy-induced neutropenic infection is at least 10% or higher. In this article we explore the management of neutropenia and neutropenic infections in older cancer patients, as well as review the causes and the risk of this complication.
Five Steps to Improving Patient Access Judy Capko, May 21, 2013 Patient access is getting increased attention through reform initiatives. Here are five steps you can take to make sure patients get appropriate access to care in your office.