Concerns have been raised that some cancer patients are not being considered for treatment based solely on their age.
Charity Macmillan Cancer Support has voiced concerns that health trusts are not taking factors such as overall fitness into consideration when assessing patients for treatment and are making decisions based on age alone.
The warning comes as a report from Macmillan and the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN), entitled Cancer Services Coming of Age, found that more than 130,000 people in the UK were still alive at least 10 years after they were diagnosed with cancer when they were diagnosed at the age of 65 or above. Of this figure, more than 8,000 were diagnosed at the age of 80 or above.
But the charity is warning that this has not stopped many patients in the UK from being denied treatment on the grounds of their age.
Macmillan Cancer Support’s chief executive Ciaran Devane condemned health professionals who ‘write off’ patients based on their age, adding that the charity’s research showed that proper assessment and appropriate treatment can extend the lives of older patients for a long time and, in some cases, they can even be cured.
She said: ‘While it’s good news that so many older people are benefiting from treatment, many thousands more could live longer if our survival rates for over-65s matched those in comparable countries.
‘The barriers to getting treatment – which include age discrimination and inadequate assessment methods – must be tackled now so more older people can survive cancer and live for many years.’
Clinical lead at NCIN, Dr Mick Peake, said: ‘It is vital that all patients receive the best and most effective treatment based on the nature of their cancer and their fitness for treatment and that chronological age alone is not the deciding factor.
‘We know that cancer survival rates in older patients in many other countries are better than in the UK and ensuring optimal treatment at all ages is the way of tackling this issue.’
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: ‘It’s good news that with the right care and treatment older people can survive for many years after cancer. It’s often forgotten that people over 75 represent a third of all cancer diagnoses and a half of all cancer deaths.
‘People over 80 with the disease are the only age group in which mortality rates have got worse in the last 40 years.
‘An individual’s date of birth should not be used as a proxy for health and fitness or influence treatment decisions. Assessments of older people must be based on their needs and not simply on their age. Anything else is blatant age discrimination’