Cancer Treatment: Does Age Bias Interfere?

Article excerpt

A 95-year-old man with liver cancer gets bad news: His doctors tell him the malignancy will kill him within the year; treatment is not likely to provide a cure

But the man refuses to give up. He finds his way to Paul P. Carbone's office and demands treatment. Carbone, a medical oncologist, agrees to initiate chemotherapy, and in fact the cancer recedes. Almost three years later, the cancer appears not to have returned.

Carbone's patient now tells him he feels healthier than he's felt in 20 years. "He told me he wanted to live to be 105," Carbone says, noting that the man's persistence insured he got the most aggressive medical therapy. But not every nonagenarian with cancer fares as well.

Indeed, a new research report by Carbone and his colleague Polly A. Newcomb uncovers some disturbing trends in cancer treatment for the elderly.

Newcomb and Carbone, both at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Comprehensive Cancer Center, conducted a telephone survey of 628 Wisconsin women who recently had been diagnosed with breast or colorectal cancer. The women, who were 20 to 74 years old at the time of their diagnosis, answered a set of questions about the type of treatment tye received.

After adjusting for severity of disease, the team found that cancer treatment for both breast and colorectal cancer varied substantially depending on the age of the patient.

When the team looked at the 507 women with breast cancer, they discovered that nearly all had undergone surgery as the primary treatment. However, women age 65 or older were significantly less likely than younger women to receive radiation treatment or chemotherapy following surgery.

And compared to their younger counterparts, older women proved more likely to consent to a mastectomy, an operation that requires removal of the beast.

Newcomb and Carbone also found certain age-related differences among 121 women treated for colorectal cancer. …