OAP cancer treatment 'inadequate'
Published 09/06/2011 | 00:22
Inadequate treatment of older cancer patients means they are less likely to survive, a review has found.
A report by The King's Fund, which examines ways to improve the NHS, found that older patients in England struggle to access treatment compared to younger people with the disease.
Overall, England has worse survival rates for cancer than a number of other countries, including Canada, Australia, Sweden and Norway, and the gap is wider for older people.
A key factor behind England's worse performance is late diagnosis, the review of international cancer studies found.
Catherine Foot, senior fellow at The King's Fund, said: "England still has a way to go to reach cancer survival rates that are ranked with the best international performers.
"The evidence points to early diagnosis as being key to improving outcomes. We hope urgent priority is given to closing the gap in survival rates between different groups in society. We found that older people are particularly burdened by this, being more likely to have cancer, to be diagnosed later, to be under-treated and to experience worse outcomes."
Older people are less likely to receive intensive investigation and treatment for cancer, the report said, and to undergo radical surgery than younger patients. It found that one of the causes for this could be age bias.
Cancer Research UK's director of policy Sarah Woolnough said: "We believe the key reason we do worse is that we often diagnose cancer late in England, meaning the disease is often more advanced when diagnosed and treatment may not be so effective. Variations in access to high-quality treatment also play a part, particularly among older people."
According to Macmillan Cancer Support, 15,000 people over the age of 75 die prematurely each year from the disease compared with better-performing countries. A pilot scheme has now been set up by the charity, the Department of Health and Age UK to try to improve cancer treatment for older patients.
Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer John Baron MP said: "It is very wrong that older people are currently under-treated in the NHS. The Government needs to address this age bias as a priority."