Ageism affecting cancer treatment

Categories: Care.

According to a survey conducted by Macmillan of cancer clinical nurse specialists, GPs and oncologists in September 2012, ageism is affecting the cancer treatment that older people may or may not receive. 

The survey shows that 45% have dealt with a cancer patient that has been refused treatment because they were too old, and 67% said that they had heard health professionals speak to older cancer patients in a condescending or dismissive way.

Macmillan, the Department of Health and Age UK have launched the report ‘Cancer Services Coming of Age‘, which summarises the findings of five pilot projects. The report makes a number of recommendations for healthcare providers to improve the quality of cancer care for older people:

  • to adopt assessment methods that test a patient’s overall physical and mental wellbeing – including cognition, mental wellbeing, nutrition, and social and financial circumstances – to ensure treatment decisions aren’t based on age alone
  • give health professionals the time and resources to complete specialist training in elderly care to reduce age discrimination in the NHS
  • establish strong links with the voluntary sector, social services and teams specialising in dementia, falls and continence and address any medical, social or financial issues that may be preventing an older patient taking up treatment.

Ciarán Devane, chief executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “Health professionals’ concerns about the prevalence of age discrimination in cancer care mustn’t be ignored.

“Unless staff are given the time and training to carry out a proper assessment of a patient’s overall physical and mental wellbeing, some patients will be unfairly written-off as ‘too old’ for treatment. The right practical support, whether it’s transport or help with caring responsibilities must also be put in place so older people needing treatment can actually take it up.

“The number of older people (aged 65 and over) living with cancer in the UK is set to rocket in the next 20 years from 1.3 million to 4.1 million. Unless the barriers to timely treatment are tackled now, many older people could die unnecessarily from cancer and services will become unaffordable.”

The Cancer Services Coming of Age report follows another Macmillan report published in March 2012, ‘The Age Old Excuse: the under treatment of older cancer patients‘, which highlights some of the reasons why older patients are less likely to receive treatment than younger patients.

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