Fears for elderly bladder cancer patients

 

Experts have raised concerns that older bladder cancer patients are not being given treatments that could cure their disease.

While more than half of patients under the age of 60 had potentially curative treatments such as surgery or radiotherapy, just a third of patients in their 70s and only 12% of patients over 80 were given such procedures, according to a new study.

Researchers examined the records of 3,300 bladder cancer patients diagnosed in Sheffield between 1994 and 2009.

The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, also found that patients over 70 were more likely to die of the disease than younger patients.

The authors said that patients in the age group had a higher proportion of more aggressive tumours and were less likely to receive radical treatments such as radiotherapy or surgery to remove the bladder and nearby organs.

“Even though it appears that older patients are more likely to have aggressive tumours, our findings suggest that not enough older patients are being offered treatments that could increase their chance of survival,” said study author James Catto, a consultant urological surgeon at the University of Sheffield.

“What's very worrying is this conservative approach to treating older patients appears to be affecting the life expectancy of this group, something that doctors must work hard to combat.”

Dr Kathryn Scott, of Yorkshire Cancer Research - which funded the study - added: “This research shows that the age of bladder cancer patients in Sheffield greatly affects how they are treated.

“This has a considerable effect on mortality rates in elderly bladder cancer patients and Yorkshire, along with the rest of the UK, is going to have to change to address this striking difference.”

Sarah Woolnough, executive director of policy and information at Cancer Research UK, added: “This study shows the older the patients are, the less likely they are to be offered the kind of treatments that could cure their cancer.

“These decisions are never easy and need to be balanced with quality of life, but it's vital for patients of all ages to be given the option of a possible cure when it is still feasible.”

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “It is shocking and wrong to deny people treatment just because of their age, which is why we have made it illegal. Patients must receive the right treatment for their condition, and this should be determined by accurate diagnosis.

“Our ambition is to be the best in Europe for cancer care and we are committed to improving survival rates, saving an additional 5,000 lives per year by 2014. To achieve this, we are investing more than £750 million over four years to improve cancer services and outcomes.”

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