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Thursday, 11 May, 2000, 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK
Elderly patients 'denied cancer treatment'
Older people are being denied potentially lifesaving treatment
Many older patients are much less likely to be given active treatment for their lung cancer, according to an authoritative study.

Cancer: the facts
The over 75s were often not given tests, surgery or medicines which might even help cure the cancer.

The findings have led to calls for an increase in the number of specialist doctors aware of the potential to successfully treat older patients.

Many physicians assume that older patients have a worse prognosis and deny them access to a surgeon or oncologist

Dr Michael Peake, Royal College of Physicians
Only 5% of those with lung cancer survive longer than five years, but surgery or high doses of chemotherapy or radiotherapy can cure in a few cases.

The research, carried out by the Royal College of Physicians, looked at more than 1,600 lung cancer patients with an average age of 69.

It found that fewer older patients had tests needed to diagnose what type of lung cancer they had.

This makes a big difference to the likely success of any treatment.

Just as successful

In addition, fewer older patients had any sort of active treatment, such as surgery or chemotherapy.

This is despite evidence suggesting that lung cancer is just as likely to be successful even if the patient is older.

A spokesman for the RCP said: "Older patients with exactly the same extent and type of lung cancer, prognostic factors and co-existing diseases were being less actively treated."

Dr Michael Peake, who presented the research at a conference in the US, said: "Many physicians assume that older patients have a worse prognosis and deny them access to a surgeon or oncologist.

"And older patients may not wish to go through what they perceive as the traumas of such treatments, although their decision often is very dependent on the knowledge and enthusiasm of the doctor involved."

Dr John Harvey, of the British Thoracic Society, which represents chest medicine specialists, said: "Overwhelming evidence is now growing that elderly patients with lung cancer are not receiving the best care for their condition in the UK.

"Previous studies have shown that their quality of treatment seems to depend on where they live, and who they are seen by.

"This research clearly shows that older patients were less likely to survive six months or receive any sort of active treatment."

He said it was important that patients were assessed by a chest medicine specialist.

"There is an urgent need to increase the number of lung specialists in the UK."

Lung cancer kills more people than any other cancer in the UK every year.

Although rates in men have been dropping in recent years, due to reductions in smoking, rates in women have been increasing.

Smoking is responsible for nine out of ten cases of lung cancer.

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