Cancer in Older Adults, with Richard Goldberg, MD

Last Updated: April 25, 2017

More than 60% of cancers in the United States occur in people over the age of 65. In this video, Dr. Richard Goldberg discusses the challenges and needs of older adults with cancer.

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Cancer in Older Adults

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Full text transcript

Cancer.Net®: Doctor-Approved Patient Information from ASCO®

Cancer in Older Adults

Richard Goldberg, MD: Older adults are at higher risk of cancer because it's a combination of our genetics and the environment that lead to cancers.  Our genetics can mutate as we get older.  Our cells have been dividing for longer.  But also, we're exposed to environmental carcinogens like cigarette smoke. 

When people are older, they often have other diseases and those diseases can interfere or make it harder to treat patients.  Part of the reason for that is that if you’re sick from emphysema or you're sick from heart disease and also sick from cancer and also liable for certain side effects of cancer treatment, all those things can pile onto a person and make them feel really ill.  As a consequence of that, we really have to judge each individual and individualize the treatment program, based not just on their physical health, but also on their preferences.

Coping with the Challenges of Your Treatment

Dr. Goldberg: So being an older adult comes with challenges.  We're not as nimble as we once were.  Sometimes, we're not as acute in our thinking or in our vision or in our hearing as was once the case.  As a consequence of that, when you add on sickness due to a disease and potential side effects of treatment, challenges can be greater for older adults with cancer than for younger adults. 

Part of that also comes with different ideas about what's most important as we get older.  Some older adults might think that quality of life trumps quantity of life and that should figure into their treatment planning with their physician.  All of this requires us to really think carefully with our doctors about how exactly any individual wants to be treated.

One of the other challenges that some older people have is that they live by themselves.  That's more common in older people than in younger people.  And have somebody to support you when you're sick to your stomach or don't feel like cooking a meal can be really important.  One of the most important things that people can do is to lean on their friends and family when they're dealing with a problem like this.

Where to Get More Information

Dr. Goldberg: There are many different sources of information online, some of it really reliable and some of it not.  One place that older individuals can go to look for information is to the ASCO website, Cancer.Net.

[Closing and Credits]

Cancer.Net®: Doctor-Approved Patient Information from ASCO®

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