Health Team

Older cancer patients can handle chemotherapy combinations

Posted March 16, 2010 5:40 p.m. EDT
Updated March 16, 2010 6:29 p.m. EDT

— Special chemotherapy treatments can help patients with advanced colon cancer beat the disease, but older patients are less likely to receive the treatment because of concerns about adverse side-effects.

Researchers looked at 675 Stage-3 colon cancer patients nationwide, including 202 age 75 and older, who received adjuvant chemotherapy, which is a grouping of chemo treatments. The older patients are often passed over for specialized clinical trials which test these medications.

"They appear to be tolerating the treatment as well as younger patients," said Dr. Katherine Kahn of Rand Corp.

Marty Petcoff said he's optimistic that adjuvant chemotherapy will help him. He had colon cancer surgery five months ago, and the disease had spread to nearby lymph nodes.

"We're in the phase of cleaning up some stuff we can't see," Petcoff said. "I'm more relaxed, and I see great value in the things that are coming my way now."

Only half of older patients receive adjuvant chemotherapy, compared with 87 percent of younger patients. Older patients don't stay on the treatment as long, and they often receive weaker doses.

"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," Kahn said.

Physicians should determine how well each patient might tolerate treatment, she said.

Researchers say older patients dealing with illnesses in addition to colon cancer also appeared to tolerate chemotherapy as well as younger patients.

The study is published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.