Fewer Cancer Patients Older Than Age 65 Enrolled in Clinical Trials, Studies Find
People ages 65 and older who have cancer are not enrolled in clinical trials for cancer treatment as often as younger people, according to data presented Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the AP/Baltimore Sun reports. Researchers at the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research analyzed 29,350 people enrolled in U.S. trials of new cancer drugs or older drugs with new uses since 1995, and they found that people 65 and older made up about 36% of participants in those trials. About 60% of newly diagnosed cancer cases are in patients 65 or older, researchers found (AP/Baltimore Sun, 6/1). In a related study, Dr. Hyman Muss, professor of medicine at the University of Vermont, found that breast cancer patients ages 65 and older are less likely than younger patients to receive aggressive therapy. Muss examined records of 6,489 breast cancer patients and found that between 1975 and 1999, 8% of patients receiving chemotherapy were ages 65 to 69 and 2% were 70 or older; about 50% of people who develop breast cancer are 65 and older. Long Island Newsday reports that scientists from Canada and Italy also cited similar disparities there (Ricks, Long Island Newsday, 6/1).
Older people may not join trials for "legitimate reasons," including the fact that they are more likely to have other serious illnesses than cancer, according to the AP/Sun. However, experts recommended that more senior citizens be able to participate in trials, as their enrollment is "essential for doctors to learn whether the drugs are safe and effective in older people," the AP/Sun reports (AP/Baltimore Sun, 6/1). Dr. Lilia Talarico, lead investigator of the FDA analysis, said that "trials must enroll an adequate number of patients representative of the patient populations that may benefit from the treatment" (Long Island Newsday, 6/1). In addition, many specialists said doctors should more often prescribe "state-of-the-art treatments" to seniors in "day-to-day care," according to the AP/Sun (AP/Baltimore Sun, 6/1).
In related news, ASCO on Saturday called for the creation of an independent commission to plan how to rid the world of tobacco, the New York Times reports. The organization suggested recruiting representatives from the public and private sectors for the commission, which would propose immediate measures, such as raising cigarette taxes and requiring ingredient labels, and long-term measures, including new tobacco regulations, cigarette advertising restrictions and measures against U.S. tobacco exports. Dr. Paul Bunn Jr., the society's president, told the Times that the group's statement was "somewhat stronger" than its past stances and other medical societies' positions, but he said, "We're cancer doctors. We get frustrated seeing the devastation caused by tobacco products" (Pollack, New York Times, 6/1).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.