More than 130,000 people in the UK have survived for at least 10 years after being diagnosed with cancer at 65 or over, according to new research published by Macmillan Cancer Support and the National Cancer Intelligence Network last month.
The research also reveals that there are more than 8,000 people alive today who have survived for at least 10 years after being diagnosed at 80 or over.
However, Macmillan says that the number of older people surviving cancer could be much higher if they were offered the right treatment – research has shown that older people are often not offered treatment because they are assessed on their age alone and not their overall fitness.
Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive at Macmillan, explains: “It’s wrong to write off older people as too old for treatment. With a proper assessment and appropriate treatment, our research shows that many older cancer patients can live for a long time and can even be cured.
“While it’s good news that so many older people are benefitting 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.”
Support for the whole journey
In addition to calling for an end to this age discrimination, Macmillan are also calling on health providers to establish links with the voluntary sector, social services and specialist teams to help address any medical, social, emotional or financial issues that may be preventing an older patient taking up treatment or that are impacting on their quality of life either during or after treatment.
Those who ‘survive’ cancer also often require ongoing support. Macmillan estimates that over 500,000 cancer survivors in the UK are experiencing long-term consequences of cancer and its treatment; these include both physical and mental effects, such as chronic fatigue, sexual difficulties, mental health problems, pain, urinary and gastrointestinal problems and lymphoedema.
The role of hospices in supporting cancer patients at the end of life is well established, but hospices also play a key role in supporting people throughout their cancer journey, using their expertise to help coordinate care and offer rehabilitation and support for cancer survivors, as well as providing end of life care.
An example of how hospices are doing this is demonstrated in another article on ehospice today, about a new rehabilitation and wellbeing service run in partnership by Peace Hospice Care, The Hospice of St Francis and Macmillan Cancer Support.
In an article from last year, by Professor Jessica Corner, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Southampton, also outlines how hospices can support cancer survivors.