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One-Quarter of Older Cancer Patients Don't Finish Chemo

Incomplete chemotherapy linked to physical frailty, treatment complications, lack of support

THURSDAY, May 4 (HealthDay News) -- About one in four elderly patients with stage III colon cancer do not complete adjuvant chemotherapy after surgery, possibly due to physical frailty, treatment complications or a lack of social and psychological support, according to a study in the May 3 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Sharon Dobie, M.D., of the University of Washington in Seattle, and colleagues assessed 3,193 elderly patients with stage III colon cancer who were treated with adjuvant chemotherapy after colon cancer resection. Patients were part of the 1992-1996 Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results registry, and data were linked to 1991-1998 Medicare claims data.

Slightly more than 78 percent of patients completed a course of adjuvant chemotherapy, defined as one chemotherapy administration claim per month. These patients had a significantly lower risk of cancer-related mortality (relative risk 0.79) than those with no therapy. Women and the widowed were less likely to finish therapy, as were those who were frail, had treatment complications, or lacked social and psychological support. Geography also influenced whether patients finished therapy.

"The investigators have confirmed the merits of patients and physicians carefully following complete treatment schedules of adjuvant chemotherapy trials," state the authors of an accompanying editorial.

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