Identifying Vulnerable Older Adults with Cancer: Integrating Geriatric Assessment into Oncology Practice


Address correspondence to Arti Hurria, MD, Director, Cancer and Aging Research Program, City of Hope, 1500 E Duarte Rd, Duarte, CA 91010. E-mail:


OBJECTIVES: To integrate the principles of geriatric assessment into the care of older patients with cancer in order to identify vulnerable older adults and develop interventions to optimize cancer treatment.

DESIGN: A brief, comprehensive, self-administered questionnaire and intervention algorithm were developed consisting of measures of geriatric assessment that are brief, reliable, validated, and predictive of mortality and morbidity in older patients.

SETTING: Academic tertiary care cancer center and community-based satellite practice.

PARTICIPANTS: Patients aged 65 and older with cancer.

MEASUREMENTS: The questionnaire solicits information about the patient's functional status, comorbidity, psychological status, nutritional status, and social support. A scoring algorithm for referral to a multidisciplinary team was developed.

RESULTS: Two hundred forty-five of 250 patients completed the questionnaire (mean age 76, range 65–95). The majority of patients were women (71%), white (95%), married (52%), and retired (90%), with a variety of tumor types and stages. Most patients (78%) completed the questionnaire on their own and reported acceptance of questionnaire length (91%), no difficult questions (94%), no upsetting questions (96%), and no missing questions (89%). The mean time to completion was 15 minutes, with a median of 12.5 (standard deviation 10, range 2–60). Information from this questionnaire helped identify physical and psychological impairments, poor nutrition, lack of social support, and untreated comorbidities. Appropriate referrals to a multidisciplinary team were made.

CONCLUSION: This brief, comprehensive, self-administered questionnaire is feasible for use in the outpatient oncology setting and helped identify the needs of geriatric oncology patients. Prospective trials are needed to determine the effectiveness of the interventions offered.