We are proud to unite with the global community on World Cancer Day, and this year’s theme of ‘Close the care gap’ closely aligns with our commitment to helping everyone with cancer grow older. Our efforts focus on providing a platform to help advance programmes and policies for people living with cancer around the world. Through our When Cancer Grows Old™ initiative in collaboration with the global oncology community, we are working to educate on the intersection of cancer and ageing, and start a conversation on the unique challenges faced by ageing people living with this disease, their families and communities.
"I commonly hear that 60 is the new 50 and 70 the new 60, however, despite our perceptions of age changing, what remains the same is the risk of cancer that comes with ageing. Cancer is an indiscriminate disease and can affect anyone at any point in their lives, however, as we age the probability of receiving a diagnosis increases significantly."1
Anju Bhalla, Head of Oncology
Cancer is a leading cause of death in the UK,2 and the reality of losing our friends, neighbours, colleagues or loved ones to cancer is not only personal, but it also impacts our society. Cancer can take an even greater physical and mental toll on older patients,3,4 as co-existing conditions often lead to complications in treatment.5 Older individuals with cancer are often more vulnerable to potential side effects from treatment, which can significantly affect their quality of life.6
Understanding the current gaps that exist in cancer care
A recent KPMG study found that cancer policies, practices or guidelines often fail those 65 and older due to a lack of geriatric assessments or geriatric training within the oncology profession,7 and poor recognition of the unique physical, emotional or economic challenges faced by the elderly and under-represented individuals.7 This same study found that, if no action is taken to address the convergence of cancer and ageing, the economic and societal burden of cancer among an already ageing global population will increase by about 80% over the next two decades.7
We also recognise there are gaps in how we care for those who live years or even decades after a cancer diagnosis. As treatments for many cancers aim to improve the amount of time without cancer or without the cancer spreading, we must think not only about survival, but quality of life. Quality of life looks different depending on access to therapies, age at diagnosis, stage of the cancer and many other factors. However, important considerations for those receiving treatment for long periods of time include reducing the side effects of treatment, accounting for mental and social health, and understanding the implications on caregivers who care for those who are able to age with cancer.
Finishing treatment is often a cause for celebration, however, many patients are left dealing with the weight of wondering if their cancer will return, which can have a significant impact on their mental health, as well as the lingering impacts of their treatment, including its impact on cognitive and physical function.
How do we address inequalities and improve care for older patients
The intersection of cancer and ageing is not just about those who are elderly when diagnosed, but also those who want to protect their quality of life as they grow older with cancer or to live their best life after cancer. To address these inequities, we must work together to educate on the gaps, but also to find societal, systemic solutions.
In the UK, 65% of new cancer diagnoses occur in people 65 and over,1 and by 2030, people older than 65 years are expected to account for 73% of the total cancer incidence burden,8 demonstrating the clear need for action. While medical breakthroughs have brought significant hope and improved outcomes to people living with cancer, we need to also focus on policies, practices and guidelines that enable people to grow older with cancer.
We are proud of our commitment to improving outcomes for older people living with cancer. We will continue our efforts to close the care gap by bringing together advocates, healthcare providers and policymakers to advance care for people living with cancer and their families.
“I encourage you to join us in our When Cancer Grows Old™ initiative, together we can make a real difference to the lives of everyone growing old with cancer.”
Anju Bhalla, Head of Oncology & Haematology
- Cancer Research UK. 2021. Cancer incidence by age. Available at: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/incidence/age#heading-Zero [Accessed January 2022].
- Macmillan Cancer Support. September 2021. Statistics factsheet. Available at: https://www.macmillan.org.uk/_images/cancer-statistics-factsheet_tcm9-260514.pdf [Accessed January 2022].
- Leach CR, Bellizzi KM, Hurria A, et al. Is it my cancer or am I just getting older? Impact of cancer on age-related health conditions of older cancer survivors. Cancer. 2016;122(12):1946–53.
- Baitar A, Buntinx F, De T, et al. The utilization of formal and informal home care by older patients with cancer: a Belgian cohort study with two control groups. BMC Health Services Research. 2017;17(1):644. doi:10.1186/s12913-017-2594-4.
- Pilleron S, Sarfati D, Janssen‐Heijnen M, et al. Global cancer incidence in older adults, 2012 and 2035: A population‐based study. Int J Cancer. 2019;144:49-58. doi:10.1002/ijc.31664.
- Mohile Practical assessment and management of vulnerabilities in older patients receiving chemotherapy: ASCO guideline for geriatric oncology. SG, Dale W, Somerfield MR, et al. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2018; 36(22): 2326.
- Data on File. MAT-GLB-2104836-v1.0-11/2021.
- Macmillan. 2012. People living with cancer. Available at: https://www.macmillan.org.uk/_images/people-living-with-cancer_tcm9-283689.pdf [Accessed January 2022].
Job bag number MAT-GB-2200256 (v1.0)
Date of Preparation: February 2022