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Wednesday, 20 March, 2002, 12:48 GMT
Cancer care 'ageist'
Chemotherapy
There are concerns about the side effects of chemotherapy
Elderly women are not being given the best treatments for breast cancer - even though they are most likely to get the disease, say researchers.

Dr Olavo Feher, of the Hospital do Cancer in Sao Paulo, Brazil, told the European Breast Cancer Conference in Barcelona that approximately 50% of all new breast cancers occurred in woman aged 65 or older.

Some women are not give surgery or chemotherapy because of concerns about the impact on their health.

But Dr Feher said older women would benefit from chemotherapy and other post-operative treatments but they were not getting them.

He said: "Several clinical trials have shown that older women are less likely to receive post-operative radiation and systemic adjuvant therapy as compared to younger women."

The treatments are used to kill cancer cells or boost the immune system.

Comparison

Dr Feher and his colleagues examined the effect of two chemotherapy drugs - epirubicin and gemcitabine - on women aged 60 years and older.

Both drugs have proven to be effective in treating younger women with advanced cancer.

The older women responded well to both drugs and there was no difference in the quality of life between the two groups.

The most common side effects were low red blood cell counts, which can cause tiredness, and low white blood cell counts, which can result in infection or bleeding.

Dr Feher said the results of the large study "demonstrate the effectiveness and safety of chemotherapy in elderly women with metastatic breast cancer".

An earlier study showed that elderly women would also benefit from surgery and the drug tamoxifen, the gold standard of care for breast cancer, but many were not receiving the treatments because of ageism.

That study, of 455 women aged over 70, showed patients who had had surgery and tamoxifen lived about three years longer than women who had had surgery but not the drug.

About one million women worldwide are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.

See also:

19 Mar 02 | Health
Breast screening benefits hailed
15 Mar 02 | Health
Relief over breast drug decision
02 Mar 02 | Health
Breast care cost questioned
01 Dec 01 | Health
Women fail to spot breast cancer
05 Nov 01 | Health
Breast 'most common cancer'
17 Mar 00 | C-D
Breast Cancer
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