BREAST CANCER: Study Shows Older Women Often Not Treated
Women aged 75 or older often are not provided routine treatments for breast cancer, according to a study released Monday at a Chicago meeting of radiologists. The Milwaukee Journal Sentine l reports that physicians may "write off" older patients, believing that women over 75 are either too old or too ill to benefit from cancer treatments. Moreover, the study suggests that many doctors think that older breast cancer patients would refuse treatment if it was offered, prompting them not to extend treatment options. The study found that while more than 80% of breast cancer patients had other medical conditions that "could have killed them," 60% of these women died of breast cancer. Only 7% of breast cancer sufferers over 75 received chemotherapy for cancer that spreads beyond the breast, as compared to 60% of patients in all age groups. In addition, the report notes that only 64% of older women received radiation after breast cancer surgery, although the treatment is standard in such cases. Lead researcher and head of cancer treatment at San Diego's Naval Medical Center Peter Johnstone said, "Simply because a woman is over 75, we shouldn't routinely deny standard treatment." The new report -- which studied cancer treatment at two naval hospitals in San Diego and Honolulu -- concurs with research released earlier this year by the Institute of Medicine that concluded that older patients were not receiving standard cancer treatments. According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 10,000 women over 80 died from breast cancer in the United States last year. Joann Schellenbach, American Cancer Society spokesperson, said that her organization recognizes the discrimination problem in cancer treatment, saying that "Death from breast cancer is a terrible thing. Why should any woman go through that?" Johnstone predicts that discrimination will become a greater issue as the population ages, adding, "We're going to get more and more people into this age group." He concluded that physicians should always offer treatment and "should not assume that an older patient wouldn't want it or couldn't tolerate it." The release of the study, which involved 69 women aged 75 and over at the two military hospitals, has prompted a federal advisory to all military medical centers, urging them to treat older cancer patients more aggressively (Marchione, 11/30).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.