ALBUQUERQUE, Aug. 19 (UPI) — Many elderly U.S. cancer patients were not given a drug that could improve chances of survival sixfold out of concern for minor side effects, a study says.
Researchers at the University of New Mexico Cancer Center say oncologists showed reluctance to prescribe the drug imatinib for older sufferers of chronic myeloid leukemia, a relatively rare form of blood cancer diagnosed in about 4,500 new patients a year, The Albuquerque Journal reported Thursday.
Age disparity has long been recognized as a factor in cancer therapy, because many treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy, tend to be highly toxic, Dr. Robert Hromas, chief of hematology oncology for the UNM Cancer Center and lead author of the study, said.
Many physicians believe elderly patients would have trouble surviving such treatments.
But in the case of imatinib, Hromas said, “the drug is very non-toxic and everybody knew it was non-toxic.”
The study examined outcomes of 423 patients diagnosed with CML in six states, including New Mexico, and in six metropolitan areas across the nation.
Researchers found an “age disparity” most apparent in patients 80 and older, only 47 percent of whom received imatinib.
The study speculates physicians may not have known imatinib is safe for older people because results of clinical trials were not reported by age
The study authors urged all federally funded clinical trials include older patients and that reports of the trials include data about older patients.
“If you’re an elderly patient, ask your oncologist,” Hromas said.
“Make sure you’re getting the latest therapy, because there’s a resistance to giving the latest therapy to elderly cancer patients.”
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