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Oncologist. 2000;5(3):224-37.

Management of cancer in the older person: a practical approach.

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Senior Adult Oncology Program, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute, Tampa, Florida 33612, USA.


The management of cancer in the older aged person is an increasingly common problem. The questions arising from this problem are: Is the patient going to die with cancer or of cancer? Is the patient able to tolerate the stress of antineoplastic therapy? Is the treatment producing more benefits than harm? This article explores a practical, albeit evolving, approach to these questions including a multidimensional assessment of the older person and simple pharmacologic interventions that may ameliorate the toxicity of antineoplastic agents. Age may be construed as a progressive loss of stress tolerance, due to decline in functional reserve of multiple organ systems, high prevalence of comorbid conditions, limited socioeconomic support, reduced cognition, and higher prevalence of depression. Aging is highly individualized: chronologic age may not reflect the functional reserve and life expectancy of an individual. A comprehensive geriatric assessment (CGA) best accounts for the diversities in the geriatric population. The advantages of the CGA include:Recognition of potentially treatable conditions such as depression or malnutrition, that may lessen the tolerance of cancer treatment and be reversed with proper intervention; Assessment of individual functional reserve; Gross estimate of individual life expectancy; and Adoption of a common language to classify older cancer patients. The CGA allows the practitioner to recognize at least three stages of aging:People who are functionally independent and without comorbidity, who are candidates for any form of standard cancer treatment, with the possible exception of bone marrow transplant. People who are frail (dependence in one or more activities of daily living, three or more comorbid conditions, one or more geriatric syndromes), who are a candidate only for palliative treatment; and People in between, who may benefit from some special pharmacological approach, such as reduction in the initial dose of chemotherapy with subsequent does escalations. The pharmacological changes of age include decreased renal excretion of drugs and increased susceptibility to myelosuppression, mucositis, cardiotoxicity and neurotoxicity. Based on these findings, the proposal was made that all persons aged 70 and older, treated with cytotoxic chemotherapy of dose intensity comparable to CHOP, receive prophylactic growth factor treatment, and that the hemoglobin of these patients be maintained >/=12 gm/dl.

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