Oncology Central

Silver survivors: how do we know if people are ‘too old’ for cancer treatment?


Cancer is primarily a disease of older age. Six in ten new cases each year in the UK occur in those aged 65 years or over [1], and 13% of the total UK population aged 65 years or over have been diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives [2]. However, while cancer mortality rates fell by 16–17% between 1995 and 2005 for under 75-year age group, they reduced by only 6% in the 75–84-year age group and actually rose in the over 85-year age group [3]. Relative survival also decreases with increasing age at diagnosis for the majority of cancers. The average relative 5-year survival in England for the top four most commonly diagnosed cancers in the UK (breast, lung, prostate and bowel) decreases from 64% among those aged 60–69 years at diagnosis to 57% among those aged 70–79 years, and 42% among those aged 80–99 years [4]. Furthermore, relative 5-year survival among those aged 65 years or over is 14% lower in the UK compared with the European average [5].

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