Medical Moment: Fighting age discrimination in cancer treatment

Published: Feb. 14, 2023 at 5:37 PM EST
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(WNDU) - Age is the largest risk factor for getting cancer.

In fact, 60% of cancer patients are over the age of 65. For so many of these older patients, age is a main factor when considering treatment options.

But one doctor is trying to change that. He wants to throw out the number and consider a person’s health instead.

“Any particular age is far less important than how you feel, how you’re doing, how you’re physically functioning, how you’re mentally functioning,” explained William Dale, MD, a geriatrician at the City of Hope Medical Center.

Doctors at the City of Hope are working to change how we treat aging cancer patients.

“A 60-year-old could be quite ill, and an 80-year-old could be quite healthy,” Dr. Dale explained. “So, you need some other way to decide from a health perspective how we’re going to treat people.”

Geriatrician William Dale’s team created a multidimensional assessment tool that looks at each patient’s physical and functioning health.

“What can you do in your daily life?” asked Dr. Dale. “Can you go do the grocery shopping? Can you do the yard work? Can you do the things you need to do around the house.”

Also looking at nutrition, sleep and one most important things, mental health.

“So how is your thinking? Your social health,” Dr. Dale asked.

The assessment flags each patient’s vulnerabilities and their treatment is focused on what they need results significantly reduced chemotherapy toxicity, helped control blood counts, nausea, sores, and pain. They also learned that patients who suffered hearing loss were more at risk.

“You think, wow, that’s weird,” Dr. Dale said. “Why would hearing impairment be affected? IF you think about interacting, there’s a lot of instructions that you have to get when you go to the physician.”

A new approach give senior patients a longer, healthier life.

Dr. Dale encourages older cancer patients to print out a free assessment here, and talk to their oncologists about it.