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Is advanced age a barrier to effective cancer treatment? The experience of nonagenarians receiving radiation therapy

Authors


Dr Michael F Back MBBS FRANZCR GradDipPsyOnc MBA, Department of Radiation Oncology, Northern Sydney Cancer Centre, Royal North Shore Hospital, St Leonards Sydney NSW 2065, Australia. Email: mback@nsccahs.health.nsw.gov.au

Abstract

Aim:  Decision-making about elderly patients is difficult due to the absence of clinical experience or evidence-based results to develop optimal treatment plans. This study aims to determine the tolerability and impact of radiation therapy (RT) when delivered to patients aged >89 years.

Methods:  A retrospective review was conducted on all nonagenarian patients (defined as aged 90 years or over) managed with RT between 2005 and 2007. Patients' records were reviewed in regard to their characteristics, the presence of significant medical comorbidities, performance status, management intent, cancer diagnosis and RT modality. Outcome end-points were overall survival and the tolerability of RT (presence of grade 3 or 4 morbidity, hospital admission or treatment interruption).

Results:  Between 2005 and 2007, 2762 new courses of RT were delivered to patients at the Northern Sydney Cancer Centre, of whom 55, or 2%, were nonagenarians. Median age at treatment was 92 years, with range 90–104 years. A total of 56% were managed with radical intent, 31% had significant comorbidities, 55% had non-skin primary tumors and 78% received linac-based treatment. The mean follow up for survivors was 19.8 months (10.2–41.8 months). RT was well tolerated, with 89% completing planned RT and only 18% requiring interruption. One patient was hospitalized due to RT toxicity. Median survival post-RT was 13.0 months, with 56% of patients alive at 12 months. Survival duration was associated with radical management intent (P= 0.001), cutaneous primary site (P= 0.001) and female gender (P= 0.043).

Conclusion:  Nonagenarian patients receiving treatment had satisfactory tolerability and achieved expected survival rates post-RT.

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