Tackling cancer in later life

Doreen Shotton

On Tuesday 6 December, Age UK launched a film and kickstarted a lively discussion at the Britain Against Cancer Conference. This is a unique event which brings together NHS professionals, patients, third sector organisations, policy experts, carers, and commercial organisations to ensure that cancer stays high on the agenda for the top decision-makers in the country.

This was Age UK’s first time at the conference.  Why were we there?

We were there because of Doreen Shotton, a former Director at Age UK Mid Mersey who was diagnosed with cancer. Doreen told us she wanted to change cancer treatment for older people. We had a unique chance, offered by this very dignified and brave woman, to tell her story and challenge the way that people think about cancer diagnosis in later life. We were at Britain Against Cancer to tell Doreen’s story through a film. Sadly, since the film was made, Doreen passed away.

Looking at cancer statistics, you might take a moment to feel optimistic. Survival rates across many cancers have improved in the past four decades. Median survival rates for all cancers are now six years, as opposed to one year in the 70s.

Hidden behind these positive stats is a more difficult story for many older people.

A third of all cancers are diagnosed in people over 75 yet the same group represents more than 50% of deaths. There are many reasons for this, from low awareness of the heightened risk as we age, to the complexity in health needs that some older people will be living with. But we know that many health professionals judge a person inappropriately based on their chronological age. This can overlook the individual and their wishes, and does not take into account their fitness and ability to withstand treatment.

During our session at Britain Against Cancer we explored the personal story of Doreen and brought together an expert panel to discuss how we could improve outcomes for older people.

We know that positive steps are being taken nationally to improve cancer detection and outcomes, in particular following the publication of recommendations from the Cancer Taskforce. We’re working to ensure that these positive steps benefit the many older people affected by cancer, so that they receive the care they deserve and are entitled to.  . We want to start a conversation that improves awareness, diagnosis and treatment of older people with cancer. Could you help us keep the conversation going?

If you can, please contact campaigns@ageuk.org.uk and we will get back to you.

Read more about cancer in later life

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