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Older cancer patients not getting best treatment, claims charity

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Older cancer patients may be missing out on the best treatment as the easier met needs of younger people are prioritised, a survey involving specialist nurses has suggested.

The Macmillan Cancer Support survey analysed the responses of 155 healthcare professionals from cancer networks throughout England, 50 of whom were clinical nurse specialists.

Two in five (38%) of the CNSs agreed that stereotypes and assumptions about old age held by healthcare professionals impacted on their treatment of older cancer sufferers, who were not always fully supported in their treatment options.

The same number of CNSs said they had dealt with a cancer patient who had been refused treatment because they were deemed too old.

Meanwhile, nearly two in three (68%) CNSs reported witnessing health professionals speak to older cancer patients in a condescending or dismissive manner.

In response to the survey findings, Macmillan Cancer Support has released a report outlining how health and social care providers in England can improve the treatment and care of older cancer patients.

The Cancer Services Coming of Age report calls for a more wide-ranging assessment of older patient’s mental and physical wellbeing, as well as their social and financial circumstances, in order to ensure that every patient is fully supported in their treatment options regardless of age and additional needs.

It also suggests that trusts should establish strong links with voluntary sector and social services teams to ensure that patients can overcome barriers to treatment associated with old age.

The report discussed how elderly patient cancer care was often complicated by comorbidities, poly-pharmacy and practical problems, such as being unable to travel to hospital for regular appointments.

It also revealed that just 7% of patients had been referred to care of elderly physicians and 14% to Age UK for practical support.  

Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “At a time when nurse specialist roles and access to services are being reviewed, it is important that we do not allow ageism to creep into those decision making processes by demonstrating that we are listening to older people about their needs when dealing with cancer.”

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