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Too Few Elderly in Cancer Clinical Trials

Majority of patients are seniors, but they're a minority in trials

THURSDAY, Nov. 18, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Even though they account for 60 percent of cancer patients in the United States, patients aged 65 and older make up just 36 percent of participants in cancer clinical trials, claims a study in the Nov. 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The study also found that people aged 70 and older comprised 46 percent of cancer patients but only 20 percent of the clinical cancer study population. People aged 75 and older accounted for 31 percent of cancer patients and just 9 percent of the trials' population.

For this study, researchers analyzed data on nearly 29,000 people who took part in 55 cancer drug clinical trials from 1995 to 2002.

"If elderly patients do not participate in clinical trials, the treatments resulting from those trials may not be appropriate for them," study author Dr. Lilia Talarico, of the Division of Oncology Drug Products and Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said in a prepared statement.

"This is a significant concern, given that elderly patients represent the majority of cancer patients in the U.S.," Talarico said.

She and her colleagues suggest that elderly patients may be less likely to be asked or less willing to take part in clinical trials because of concerns that the treatment won't be effective or may cause serious side effects and reduced quality of life.

"Additional concerns for older patients including health-care costs, lack of social and home-care support, and difficulties with access to care constitute significant barriers. These are not usually considered in the evaluation and treatment of younger patients," Talarico said.

Treatment modifications, study protocols designed specifically for elderly cancer patients, and less stringent eligibility criteria based on cancer and patient characteristics could increase the number of older people who enroll in clinical cancer trials, the study authors said.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about clinical trials.

SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Oncology, news release, Nov. 12, 2004
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