Treat the woman, not her age

Older women and breast cancer

Washington, DC -- Women age 65 years or older constitute half of new breast cancer patients each year, and the number of older women with breast cancer is forecast to double by 2030 as the baby boomers age. Yet despite their increasingly large numbers, older women who develop breast cancer often fail to receive the same care as offered to younger women according to Jeanne Mandelblatt, M.D., of Georgetown University's Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

In an editorial entitled "Treating Breast Cancer: The Age Old Dilemma of Old Age" which appears in the September 20, 2006, issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, she calls on doctors treating breast cancer in older women to look beyond the year in which a woman was born and to take into account her overall health, frailty and ability to tolerate various cancer treatment. "Older women who perceive more ageism in their interaction with providers are less likely to receive radiation or chemotherapy," Mandelblatt wrote.

Women want their physicians to consider their disease, not their birthdays. "In our work with older women, we found that 33 percent would choose chemotherapy if it would extend their lives by 12 or more months," she said.

Older women in good health may do better than younger women in poorer health. "At this time, we do not need more research to document what we already know: older women get less intensive treatment. What we need is an understanding of the biology of cancer in this population [women 65 or older with breast cancer], tools that can help clinicians identify physiological reserve and ability to withstand the rigors of more aggressive treatment, and more consistent elicitation of women's informed preferences."

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About Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center The Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of Georgetown University Medical Center and Georgetown University Hospital, seeks to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cancer through innovative basic and clinical research, patient care, community education and outreach, and the training of cancer specialists of the future. Lombardi is one of only 39 comprehensive cancer centers in the nation, as designated by the National Cancer Institute, and the only one in the Washington, DC, area. For more information, go to http://lombardi.georgetown.edu.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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