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Keywords:

  • chemotherapy;
  • older adults;
  • cancer;
  • ageing;
  • treatment decision making

JOHNSON M. (2012) European Journal of Cancer Care21, 3–9. Chemotherapy treatment decision making by professionals and older patients with cancer: a narrative review of the literature

This narrative review of the literature examines the issues influencing chemotherapy treatment of older patients with cancer. Increasing age is associated with physical, social and psychological changes, but the rate of change differs widely between people, such that chronological age is not a good determinant of fitness for treatment. Changes in old age can affect disease processes and treatments that are offered. Clinical trials suggest that older patients gain benefits from chemotherapy, but with increased toxicity profile. Dose reductions may be required, but the effect on outcome is not known. Adjuvant chemotherapy is likely to benefit patients with a life expectancy over 5 years, although mortality benefits become less pronounced with increasing age. Older patients want chemotherapy, as long as side effects do not reduce quality of life or ability to function independently. Older patients face barriers to communication with professionals, including sensory and memory problems and poorer health literacy. Patients should be assessed covering functional, physiological and socio-economic domains that identify significant comorbid disease and frailty, to ensure that planned chemotherapy is appropriate. Successful treatment of older patients with chemotherapy may require interventions to support them to ensure all patients who may derive benefit can undergo treatment, if they so wish.