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Giving Older Cancer Patients a Fighting Chance

New tool gauges whether treatments will be tolerable and effective

FRIDAY, May 13, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- A new tool can help doctors identify those older cancer patients able to tolerate -- and benefit from -- cancer therapy.

"Age alone is not enough to identify a patient's chances to benefit from cancer treatment," Dr. Lodovico Balducci, program leader of the Senior Adult Oncology Program at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa, Fla., said in a prepared statement.

"One 75-year-old can be perfectly health with no other illnesses and be very independent and capable, while another may be struggling with other ailments and be completely different. Health care professionals who conduct a comprehensive geriatric assessment with patients will get a more complete picture and will be more likely to determine the most effective treatment," he explained.

The new Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment (CGA) checklist helps doctors evaluate a patient's physical and emotional capacity to undergo and tolerate cancer treatments and its side effects. The tool includes simple forms to fill out, along with physical and laboratory tests.

Doctors review CGA data with patients in order to come to a decision. The CGA provides information about: the patient's ability to carry out day-to-day activities on their own (functional status); the presence of other health problems; living conditions and support; thinking and mood; medications the patient is taking; nutrition; and common geriatric syndromes.

"Older patients may need special treatment when it comes to cancer treatment," Robin Kornhaber, senior vice president of patient services at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, said in a prepared statement. "But the concept of being too old for cancer treatment is outdated. More than half of all cancers occur in people older than 65 years and they appear to benefit from treatment to the same extent as younger individuals."

Recent studies have found that older cancer patients are less likely than younger patients to be given chemotherapy and/or enroll in clinical trials.

The CGA checklist was highlighted during a symposium at the recent Oncology Nursing Society's annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about older adults and cancer.

SOURCE: Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, news release, April 27, 2005
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