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Lynne Eldridge MD

Should Treatment of the Elderly With Advanced Lung Cancer Be Different?

By October 10, 2011

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We know that our bodies change with age, and what someone may tolerate at age 20 can differ from what they can tolerate at age 80. Still, should age alone dictate the best treatments for cancer?


A new study suggests that -- at least in Manitoba where the study was done -- the elderly aren't being given a fair shot at lung cancer treatments that could extend life.

Knowing that the elderly (defined as over age 70 in this study) are not as likely to be involved in clinical trials for lung cancer, researchers decided to look at how those "older" patients with stage 3 and stage 4 lung cancer respond to chemotherapy treatments relative to patients under the age of 70.

A total of 497 people were evaluated. Of these, only 147 were evaluated by a medical oncologist to see if chemotherapy should be considered. And of these 147 people, 82 received chemotherapy (only 16.5% of the original group.)

For those people over 70 who received chemotherapy, median survival (the amount of time after which 50% of people have died and 50% are still alive) was 64 months for stage 3 and 56 months for those with stage 4 lung cancer. This was in contrast to 46 months and 26 months for stage 3 and 4 respectively in the "no chemotherapy" group.

The author's conclusion was that chemotherapy extended survival times in elderly people in a way that is similar to that for younger patients.

Of course, factors other than survival time need to be considered. Chemotherapy is not without side effects, and quality of life is very important. Still, the important thing to take from this study is that individuals should have the options available so they can make their own educated decision, and that age should not be a reason to withhold treatment. Age 70 may truly be the new 50.

Further Reading:

Photo: National Cancer Institute, Rhoda Baer (photographer)


Baunermann Ott, C. et al. Survival and treatment patterns in elderly patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer in Manitoba. Current Oncology. 2011 Oct;18(5):e238-42.

October 17, 2011 at 7:19 pm
(1) Lori Hope says:

Thank you very much for this article, which should be read by lung cancer patients, survivors, caregivers, and health care providers everywhere.
You do us a great service through this site, providing crucial, up-to-the-date information and asking the most important questions.
Lori Hope

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