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  • Older Cancer Survivors Present Unique Challenge to Health Care System

    The growing number of older cancer survivors presents a unique challenge to the health care system because they are more likely to have multiple chronic diseases and tend to experience poorer physical functioning than younger survivors, says an NBC article based on a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.  

    More than 13 million people had survived cancer and were still alive in the United States as of January 1, 2012. Nearly two-thirds of them were considered "cured," having survived 5 years or more. Forty percent had survived 10 years; 15% had lived 20 years past their diagnosis. The study's authors project that the ranks of cancer survivors will grow by nearly a third over the next 10 years.

    "By 2020, two-thirds of cancer survivors are going to be age 65 or older," said Julia Rowland, PhD, the study's lead author and director of the Office of Cancer Survivorship at the National Cancer Institute, a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  

    "Provision of high-quality care for older adult survivors may require adoption of new metrics and strategies," the authors write. "These include the use of geriatric assessments of health and quality of life, the development of geriatric cancer rehabilitation programs, and the development of multidisciplinary teams with expertise in older adults' complex and unique needs. Optimally, these teams will include geriatric specialists in social work, psychology (or neuropsychology), nursing, rehabilitation, and oncology, along with geriatricians."

    Rowland and colleagues say a concerted effort is needed to better describe older cancer survivors, define and refine standards of quality care for them, and develop delivery systems that reflect the multifaceted needs of this diverse and vulnerable population.  

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