Older colon cancer patients likely to get less treatment, says study



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Posted on March 16, 2010 at 5:40 PM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 16 at 5:36 PM

Research has shown that chemotherapy is just as effective for older patients with colon cancer.  But a new study suggests that many of those patients are being short-changed by their doctors.

"It was clear to me we needed a good mop to clean up things and that's how I'm looking at it now. We're in the phase of cleaning up some stuff we can't see," said Marty Petcoff.

Petcoff has had surgery and now chemotherapy. He has Stage 3 colon cancer, which means it has spread to his lymph nodes.

"We found that there was a substantial difference between older patients and younger patients with respect to who received adjuvant chemotherapy," said Dr. Katherine I. Kahn, Rand Corporation.

Adjuvant chemotherapy involves using a cocktail of drugs with the goal of preventing the cancer from coming back. Dr. Kahn from the Rand Corporation and co-authors studied 675 Stage 3 colon cancer patients nationwide and then compared older and younger patients.

"One in two patients who were 75 years and over received adjuvant chemotherapy as compared with 87 percent of younger patients," said Kahn.

Even the older patients who did get chemo didn't receive it for as long as the younger groups and often got lower doses even though they can tolerate the drugs just as well.

"What this does is it informs patients and doctors that if they see an older patient with Stage 3 colon cancer they shouldn't automatically based upon their age decide not to treat the patient. They should work with the patient and family individually to try to get a sense of how well that patient might tolerate the treatment," said Kahn.

"The quality of my life believe it or not has improved. I'm happier, I'm doing more. I'm more relaxed and I see great value in the things that are coming my way, now. How about that for a cancer patient, huh?" said Petcoff.

The study appears in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.