Research uncovers vast inequalities in cancer care for older patients with leukaemia

New research conducted by Leukaemia CARE into the lives of older people living with blood cancers has uncovered vast inequalities in cancer care for the elderly compared with younger patients.

This new research has exposed differences in the quality of care experienced by people living with leukaemia, finding that older patients do not receive the same levels of information and support as younger patients. New analysis of existing data has also found that each year up to 740 deaths of people over the age of 65 could be prevented if UK survival rates for leukaemia matched the best in Europe.

In the UK, inadequate treatment (known medically as undertreatment) is just one factor contributing to poor survival rates in the older population. While this can be medically justifiable, there is growing evidence which suggests that many older patients who could benefit from treatment are simply not being offered it. As potentially curative stem cell transplants are considered a viable option for patients over 70, age alone shouldn’t be a barrier to treatment.

In a report published today, Leukaemia: I wasn’t born yesterday, Leukaemia CARE is calling for older patients’ needs to be prioritised in line with younger patients’. This should include measures to improve the information provided to older patients about their condition, and for decisions about treatment to be made based on patients’ fitness rather than their chronological age.

Commenting on these findings, Henry Smith MP and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Blood Cancer states:

These findings confirm that older patients with leukaemia are not treated with the same priority and urgency as younger patients, which is unacceptable. This inequality in care and treatment is one of the reasons why the APPG on Blood Cancer has announced an inquiry into blood cancer care in the NHS. We need to find ways to increase awareness of this condition, as well as improve diagnosis rates and overall care for the elderly.

Zack Pemberton-Whiteley, Head of Campaigns and Advocacy at Leukaemia CARE adds:

These survey findings really opened our eyes to inequalities faced by many elderly patients with blood cancers. Awareness of leukaemia in the elderly and amongst GPs needs to be improved so that testing can be carried out quickly and patients have the best chance of accessing treatment which will improve their chances of survival.

Further findings include:

  • Only 37% of older patients have access to a nurse who specialises in blood cancers, compared with 49% of under 65s
  • Older patients are less likely than younger patients to know that leukaemia is a type of cancer, only 77% knew this before they were diagnosed (compared to 81% in under 65s)
  • Older leukaemia patients are far less likely to be given advice on using the internet to research their condition (56% compared to 81% of under 65s)

Today, leading blood cancer clinicians will meet at the British Society of Haematology to discuss the report’s findings and consider its recommendations.

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