Older patients are underrepresented in many areas of cancer services utilization and in clinical trial enrollment. This study evaluates whether age, when adjusted for sex, comorbidity, stage, tumor site, geography, and time period, is predictive of cancer treatment practice.
First, we used the Ontario Cancer Registry (OCR) to examine for any apparent differences in treatment practices between elderly (≥ 70 years) and younger patients in the last three decades. Second, we performed a chart review of 1,505 patients with lung, breast, and colorectal cancers seen in Ontario either at an urban center, the Princess Margaret Hospital, or at a rural center, the Northwestern Regional Cancer Centre. Patients were randomly selected from two time periods, 1977 to 1978 and 1997; and the study population was to comprise at least 50% elderly patients.
OCR data demonstrated that, in some settings, such as colorectal cancer, the proportions of elderly cancer patients who were referred to cancer centers and who received any cancer treatment were lower than their younger counterparts. The chart review data showed that increasing age was a significant negative predictor for receiving any cancer treatment (P < .001, multivariate analysis) and for having a clinical trial discussion with the treating specialist (P < .001, multivariate analysis).
Independent of other factors, older age is consistently a cause of disparity in cancer treatment practice and in clinical trial discussion with patients. By increasing the accrual rate of elderly cancer patients in clinical trials, a better understanding of appropriate therapies for this patient population can be obtained and may, thereby, impact on their cancer-related morbidity and mortality.