Elderly cancer patients are being denied standard treatment options because of their age, a new report has found.
Macmillan Cancer Support’s The Age Old Excuse: the under treatment of older cancer patients exposed levels of discrimination within elderly patients due to ‘ill-founded assumptions’.
Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, says the practice of recommending treatment based on age instead of a patient’s health is “an unacceptable act of discrimination”.
Currently, there are approximately 310,000 people diagnosed with cancer and around 156,000 deaths in Britain each year. It is the biggest killer of people aged 75 and over.
The amount of people dying from cancer is reducing in most age groups. However, the report found the number of deaths is reducing at a slower rate in those aged 74 to 84, and death rates in those aged 85 and over are increasing.
Research published in Cancer Epidemiology says there could be 14,000 fewer deaths from cancer in those aged 75 and over if mortality rates from cancer matched those in the US.
Macmillan is now calling for a more effective way of assessing older people for treatment and suggests short-term practical support to enable an uptake in recommended treatments. The charity also says training is needed for healthcare professionals working with elderly patients within the NHS to end the discrimination they currently face.
“We have a moral duty to treat people as individuals and give them the best chance of beating cancer, regardless of their age,” commented Ciarán Devane.
“As our population ages, and the number of people diagnosed with cancer grows, it is vital that steps are taken to ensure that the right people get the right treatment at the correct level of intensity, together with the practical support to enable them to take up and complete the treatment.
“Efforts are being made to increase early diagnosis and promote healthier lifestyles, but much more needs to be done to tackle under treatment.
“The NHS and social care providers must wake up to the specific issues older people face and ensure treatment decisions are based on their overall health not just their date of birth. Writing people off as too old for treatment is utterly shameful.”
Paul Burstow, Care Services Minister, says that cancer patients of all ages should “expect the best care”, but insisted the NHS already provides this.
“We are under no illusions that there are unjustifiable variation in standards, which is why we have funded five pilots jointly with Macmillan to help us understand how older people with cancer are cared for,” he said.
“The learning from the pilots will help the NHS to ensure that all older patients with cancer have their needs properly met.
“Not only is the NHS under a moral obligation not to discriminate, but we sent a clear message that any age discrimination in the NHS is unacceptable when we did not ask for any exemptions on age in the Equality Act.”