In the UK, people aged 70 or over account for half of all new cancer cases, according to statistics from Cancer Research UK. However, despite this being the case, the UK has one of the worst cancer survival rates in Europe for older people. In fact, UK mortality rates for older people are also higher than in the US. Astonishingly, if UK survival rates were the same as they are in the US, more than 14,000 cancer deaths a year in the over 75s would be avoided.
While a number of factors inevitably contribute to this reality, under treatment has been cited as one of the most significant.
At present, older cancer patients (those aged over 65) are less likely to receive life-saving treatment than people aged 55-64. Previously, it had been suggested that older people may be more likely to refuse treatment, but new research from Macmillan shows that this doesn’t seem to be the case.
Indeed, the Macmillan study of over 1,500 people, which was conducted by Ipsos MORI, found that older people are no more likely to receive life-saving treatment than younger people, with 12% of over 75s saying they had opted not to have certain treatments; compared to 15% of people aged 55-64 and 14% of people aged 65-74.
Older people are, however, less likely to question treatment decisions than those aged 55-64, which could mean that they are missing out on other treatment options, according to Macmillan.
Older People ‘Not Getting a Fair Deal’
Jagtar Dhanda, Head of Inclusion at Macmillan Cancer Support said:
“Older people are simply not getting a fair deal when it comes to cancer care. We know they do not currently have the same access to cancer treatments or the same rates of survival as younger people. This research reveals, for the first time, that we would be wrong to assume that the reason for this is down to older people refusing cancer treatment more than younger patients.”
Dhanda went on to question why older people are not receiving the crucial cancer care they need, suggesting that judgements could be being made based on age rather than actual capacity or preference.
He also said the hope now was that the research would help the NHS with its commitment to addressing the survival gap between older and younger patients, as laid out in the health service’s recently published Cancer Strategy for England.
Dhanda concluded by saying that cancer care must remain patient-centred, with healthcare professionals given the support they need to make assessments based on physical and mental wellbeing instead of simply age alone.
We are finding more and more clients keen to ensure they will have access to the most up-to-date treatment and drugs should they be unfortunate enough to suffer with cancer. At such a worrying time, a speedy diagnosis can be such a relief to both the patient, and their families, making private health insurance a must.
The full Macmillan report, entitled Exploring the attitudes and behaviours of older people living with cancer, can be accessed here.
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