Health

Call for rethink over older cancer patients

Elderly patient
Image caption The number of older cancer patients is on the rise

All older cancer patients should get physical and mental health tests so they are not unfairly written off as too old for treatment, a report says.

The assessments were recommended by a joint Macmillan Cancer Support, Age UK and Department of Health review.

They evaluated five pilot projects set up to look at new ideas for ensuring the over-65s get the best care.

Previous research has shown that older patients are less likely to get surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

It is estimated if NHS performance was brought up to the best internationally, another 15,000 lives a year would be saved.

The review found carrying out comprehensive assessments, which look at existing medical conditions, physical capabilities, mental well-being and what social care support is needed, would help ensure older patients got the best care.

'Unfairly written off'

As well as encouraging staff to give more consideration to whether the patient would benefit from cancer treatment, they also ensure other problems are picked up on.

The assessments are already commonplace in other areas of healthcare, such as orthopaedic surgery which involves knee and hip operations.

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Media captionLes Scaife: "I offered to race my doctor across the car park for a tenner"

In the hospitals piloting the tests, the majority of patients - and in some cases all - benefited in one way or another.

For some it ensured they were put forward for more cancer treatment, while for others it meant important changes to medicines for other conditions were made or extra support was arranged.

The latter point meant hospitals needed to develop better links with the voluntary sector, council social services and teams specialising in dementia, the review said.

It also called for better training for cancer staff, pointing out that the number of older people with cancer was set to rise from 1.3 million to 4.1 million over the next 20 years.

Macmillan Cancer Support chief executive Ciaran Devane said: "Unless staff are given the time and training to carry out a proper assessment of a patients overall physical and mental well-being, some patients will be unfairly written-off as too old for treatment.

"The right practical support, whether it's transport or help with caring responsibilities must also be put in place so older people needing treatment can actually take it up."

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