A new report from the American Cancer Society details rates of new cancer cases and cancer deaths among adults 85 years old and older, often called the “oldest old.” The number of Americans in this age group is expected to nearly triple from 6.4 million in 2016 to 19 million by 2060. It’s the fastest-growing population group in the US. Because cancer risk increases with age, this rapidly growing older population will increase demand for cancer care.
The report, “Cancer Statistics for Adults Aged 85 Years and Older, 2019,” was published August 7, 2019 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society. A companion piece was published in January as a Special Section in “Cancer Facts & Figures 2019.”
The report provides information about incidence and mortality rates and trends, survival, treatment, and the unique challenges affecting cancer in the oldest old.
The researchers found that the oldest old were being screened at higher rates than they expected. Most guidelines generally recommend against cancer screening in those with less than a 10-year life expectancy because the risks of screening and treatment (if cancer is found) tend to outweigh the benefits. At the same time, the authors note that age alone does not predict life expectancy, physical function, or the ability to tolerate treatment.
They also note that treating older patients with cancer is often complicated because they are more likely to have other serious health problems. This might result in some older patients getting less aggressive treatment than younger patients in similar situations. Patients with cancer who are 85 years and older have the lowest relative survival of any age group.
The study authors say more research on cancer in the oldest Americans is needed to better understand how to meet their needs.
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Cancer Statistics for Adults Aged 85 Years and Older, 2019. Published August 7, 2019 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. First author Carol E. DeSantis, MPH, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.
Cancer Facts & Figures 2019. Published online January 8, 2019. American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.
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