In this review, we will discuss the role of geriatric assessment, alternative treatment modalities for older women with triple-negative breast cancer, and other special considerations for this patient population.
Hyman B. Muss, MD
This video examines challenges and opportunities in getting older patients with cancer enrolled in clinical trials.
In this interview, Dr. Hyman Muss discusses some of the barriers to providing high-quality care to geriatric cancer patients, including the barriers to diagnosis and treatment.
Can knowledge of a patient’s breast tumor genome help select the optimal treatment, and when we have an effective treatment for a group of patients—in this case, for breast cancer patients in the adjuvant setting—how long should the course of treatment be?
In this review we will discuss how to evaluate older breast cancer patients, including estimating survival, defining functional limitations, and providing guidelines for optimal adjuvant therapies.
Dr. Balducci has presented a timely and useful overview of bone health in elderly patients undergoing cancer treatment. This topic has important implications, not only within geriatric oncology but also throughout the entire age spectrum. Dr. Balducci’s focus on the elderly population is especially relevant, as this group is at particularly high risk for bone complications over the course of cancer therapy. In his review, Dr. Balducci provides an introduction to the physiology of bone reabsorption and formation, and discusses risk factors for the interruptions in usual physiologic homestasis that lead to osteoporosis.
Although increasing age is the major risk factor for breast cancer incidence and mortality, when adjusted for disease stage, breast cancer mortality is similar among younger vs older patients. Importantly, about 90% of older women with breast cancer present with early-stage disease. The biologic characteristics of breast tumors in older patients suggest they would derive benefit from adjuvant therapy, particularly endocrine therapy, but older women are still frequently undertreated, resulting in poorer survival. Studies suggest that focusing on comorbidity rather than “chronologic age” as a surrogate for life-expectancy is a key aspect of adjuvant decision-making for older patients. Morbidity and mortality from cancer in vulnerable patients with poorer health can be accurately predicted by the Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment (CGA), which evaluates comorbidities, functional status, cognition, social support, psychological state, nutritional status, and polypharmacy. Use of the CGA and newer versions of this tool can lead to interventions that maintain function and improve quality of life in older patients with breast cancer.
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.
As the aging population in the United States continues to grow, the incidence of diseases of the elderly, such as breast cancer, are increasing. Many more elderly women are expected to be diagnosed with new breast cancers, most of them in an early stage. Appropriate treatment of these women is important, as they have poorer outcomes when undertreated. In this review, we will discuss the biology and treatment of early breast cancer in elderly women. We will focus on the role of comorbidity and its effect on life expectancy, treatment decisions, current recommendations for primary treatment with surgery, radiation and neoadjuvant strategies, and adjuvant treatment including local radiation therapy and systemic treatment with endocrine therapy, chemotherapy, and newer agents. Finally we will discuss the importance of clinical trials in the elderly.
With the aging of the Western population, cancer in the older person is becoming increasingly common. After considering the relatively brief history of geriatric oncology, this article explores the causes and clinical implications of the association between cancer and aging. Age is a risk factor for cancer due to the duration of carcinogenesis, the vulnerability of aging tissues to environmental carcinogens, and other bodily changes that favor the development and the growth of cancer. Age may also influence cancer biology: Some tumors become more aggressive (ovarian cancer) and others, more indolent (breast cancer) with aging. Aging implies a reduced life expectancy and limited tolerance to stress. A comprehensive geriatric assessment (CGA) indicates which patients are more likely to benefit from cytotoxic treatment. Some physiologic changes (including reduced glomerular filtration rate, increased susceptibility to myelotoxicity, mucositis, and cardiac and neurotoxicity) are common in persons aged 65 years and older. The administration of chemotherapy to older cancer patients involves adjustment of the dose to renal function, prophylactic use of myelopoietic growth factors, maintenance of hemoglobin levels around 12 g/dL, and proper drug selection. Age is not a contraindication to cancer treatment: With appropriate caution, older individuals may benefit from cytotoxic chemotherapy to the same extent as the youngest patients.