Elderly cancer patients are significantly under-represented in cancer clinical trials

, but only 9% of the study population.

Researchers suggest that elderly patients are less likely to be asked or may be less willing to enroll in clinical trials because of concerns that the treatment will be ineffective or cause debilitating side effects and a reduced quality of life.

Elderly patients were underrepresented in trials for all cancer treatments except those examining breast cancer hormonal therapies. Researchers suggest that this likely reflects the general acceptance among both patients and physicians that hormonal therapy is well tolerated and effective in reducing recurrence and death in women of all ages, including older women.

To increase elderly participation in clinical cancer trials, researchers recommended treatment modifications, study protocols designed for elderly cancer patients, and less stringent eligibility criteria based on cancer and patient characteristics. Elderly patients tend to be excluded from studies with stringent eligibility criteria because of health limitations and concerns about their ability to tolerate chemotherapy, researchers noted.

"Additional concerns for older patients including health care costs, lack of social and home care support, and difficulties with access to care constitute significant barriers. These are not usually considered in the evaluation and treatment of younger patients," said Dr. Talarico.

"Increasing life expectancy has led to a growth in the U.S. elderly population, making it even more critical that elderly cancer patients have better access to clinical cancer trials and treatments," Dr. Talarico added. "With the development of new, selective, and better tolerated treatments, improved access should be possible."

The Native American Project: Increasing Access to Clinical Trials

An overview of a cancer research project aimed at increasing access to clinical trials and new technologies among Native Americans in South Dakota will

Contact: Danielle Potuto
American Society of Clinical Oncology

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