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New cancer drugs are being denied to the elderly - report
ELDERLY breast cancer patients are being denied life-saving drugs according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Sussex and Brighton and Sussex Medical School found just 14 per cent of patients aged over 70 with early breast cancer are offered standard chemotherapy after surgery.
The study was led by Professor Lesley Fallowfield, director of Sussex health outcomes research and education in cancer at the university.
Researchers also found that in nearly a third of the 803 case studies examined, clinicians made a decision on what treatment to give a patient without recording their fitness or understanding their HER2 status. HER2 is a receptor found on the surface of all cells.
Like a satellite dish, it sends messages or ‘signals’ into the cell telling it to survive and multiply.
In HER2-positive breast cancer, there are too many HER2 receptors on the surface of cancerous cells.
As a result, the cells receive a high number of ‘survive and multiply’ signals – causing rapid growth and spread of the tumour.
Knowledge of a patient’s type, stage and HER2 status therefore plays a part in deciding the most appropriate care for the patient.
There are many different types of breast cancer.
Patients who test HER2 positive could be offered Herceptin together with chemotherapy, which significantly increases chances of survival.
Professor Fallowfield said: “Elderly breast cancer patients should be assessed in the same way that younger patients are, based on their performance status and their HER2 status, without prejudice or unreasonably ageist perceptions.
“This is essential information, and without it, you may as well guess as to the most appropriate treatment.
“National guidelines need to be developed to support treatment recommendations if elderly patients are to receive fair and equal assessment of their treatment requirements in future.
“There may be legitimate reasons not to offer chemotherapy to older women with breast cancer: in some patients the benefits may be very small or the patient may not be fit enough for treatment.
“However, it is clear from this research that some clinicians are basing their decisions on perception rather than fact.”
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