Improving Cancer Care in the Elderly

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the US, and it disproportionately affects the older population. More than half of people with cancer are over 65, and this age group has the highest mortality rate from cancer. While seniors with cancer have different treatment issues than younger people, their unique needs are often ignored — both when researching and when implementing cancer treatment.

The following issues affect the safety and effectiveness of cancer care in seniors:

1. Seniors are under-represented in clinical trials for cancer therapies.

Because of overall weakened health, seniors are eligible for clinical trials much less often than younger people. Many of the new, targeted treatments for cancer have side effects that affect the senior population more than other age groups, but they are not measured by clinical trials. For example, cardiotoxicity, which weakens the heart, is a side effect of some therapies that is far more serious in seniors. Because of underrepresentation of seniors a treatment that is found to be safe in younger people may have unknown results in older people, particularly those over 75.

2. The senior population usually has conditions other than cancer.

According to the AARP, 91% of seniors have at least one chronic health condition, and 73% have two or more. These may include chronic health conditions such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease, or one or more  physical or cognitive disabilities. These conditions are not generally accounted for when testing cancer therapies. Disabilities, in particular, can become worse with cancer therapy, and have even been shown to lead to earlier mortality.

3. Seniors often cannot keep up with a care regimen.

Older people, particularly those who are frail and living at home, often have difficulty managing medications, coordinating care among a variety of healthcare providers, and even getting to their medical appointments.

4. Caregivers are under higher levels of stress.

Most seniors with cancer are being cared for either by their children, who are probably working in addition to caring for their parent; or by their spouse, who is usually also older and likely has their own medical issues. According to the National Cancer Institute of the National Institute of Health, the distress experienced by caregivers is often greater than the distress reported by the person with cancer.

Beacon of LIFE, a PACE program in Oceanport, NJ, provides seniors, their family, caregivers and professional health care providers the ability to best meet the health care needs of frail seniors while continuing to live in their community.

Beacon of LIFE maintains an interdisciplinary team of professionals who give each client the coordinated care they need. Our staff specializes in working with older people, and work with each client and their family to develop the most effective plan of care. We even provide transportation to appointments.

Our care and services allow people who would otherwise need to live in a nursing home to live where they want — in their own communities, in their own homes.

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