Sorry, You’re Too Old to Get the Best Cancer Treatments

A new look into cancer treatment in the UK has raised the alarm that people over 65 may be being denied the best cancer treatments because of their age, despite many being robust enough to withstand the treatments.

The research poll, carried out as a joint effort between Macmillan Cancer Support, Age UK and the Department of Health, evaluated five pilot projects that aim to improve on the UK’s lagging cancer survival rates.

The poll found that 45% of oncologists, cancer clinical nurse specialists and GPs reported having witnessed cancer patients being refused treatment by other staff on the grounds they were “too old.” The research also said that 67% of those surveyed heard health professionals speak to older cancer patients in what was termed a “condescending or dismissive way.”

Previous research has demonstrated that older patients were less likely to be put forward for aggressive cancer treatments like surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy under the mistaken notion that, because of their age, they would not survive the treatments or, in some cases, that those expensive therapies would be better allocated to younger patients.

In order to dissuade them from making such blanket judgments Macmillan Cancer Support, Age UK and the Department of Health, set out a broad number of recommendations, including the need for comprehensive assessments that will investigate elderly patients’ existing medical conditions, physical and mental well-being and anticipated post-operative care.

Said Ciarán Devane, chief executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, in a statement:

Unless staff are given the time and training to carry out a proper assessment of a patient’s overall physical and mental wellbeing, some patients will be unfairly written-off as “too old” for treatment.

The right practical support, whether it’s transport or help with caring responsibilities must also be put in place so older people needing treatment can actually take it up.

Unless the barriers to timely treatment are tackled now, many older people could die unnecessarily from cancer and services will become unaffordable.

This sentiment was echoed by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt who said, “It is shocking and wrong to deny people treatment just because of their age, which is why we have made it illegal. However, we agree that more still needs to be done to improve treatment for cancer patients over 70 – which is why we worked with Macmillan on this report to understand how to address this. [...]  To achieve this, we are investing more than £750 million over four years to improve cancer services and outcomes.”

This of course comes amid increasing concerns over changes to NHS services that, critics have warned, risk privatizing the NHS to the detriment of patient care. There have also been stark warnings from financial experts in recent weeks that the UK government’s health cuts are unsustainable and could impact patient care.

Earlier this month, the National Audit Office (NAO) warned that out of the £5.8bn NHS savings made by the government over the last year, £520m were one-off cuts. These, therefore, could not be repeated in future years and attempting to make the same level of cuts could, they warned, risk damaging patient care. The NAO also called on the government to take a stronger role in ensuring patient care wasn’t being rationed.

Whether the government will take this advice, and how this will square with Hunt’s commitment to improving cancer care for the over-65s, remains to be seen.


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KFC Peddling Cancer-Causing Food in Pink Buckets

Image Credit: Borya.


Alicia Guevara
Alicia Guevara5 years ago


Steve Carmo
Past Member 5 years ago

Demographic changes in the UK indicate that by 2017, 49% of the UK population will be aged 64 (Appleby, Crawford, Emmerson, 2009). Concurrently, government is hacking £15-20bn out of the equation up to 2015 and is now looking to extend the period of austerity further (Hawkes, 2012). Think about that for a moment. Changes are going to have to implemented and priorities will have to be revisited.

Personally, I find it abhorrent that the bean counters will always go for the supposedly softest target, resulting in this sort of nonsense. The most incredible people I know, from every aspect, are 80 . One of them (81) is a human dynamo whose energy levels I cannot match; another is 90 and in great pain from arthritis, but it doesn't stop her from maintaining an active social life, and she goes to the pool and the gym (yes, gym) once a week to keep herself mobile; the other is 104 now but she worked up to the age of 98 (4 days a week with 4 bus journeys each day). I speak to and LEARN from these people. These are crown jewels we are talking about, and an absolutely massive part of our social collateral. As it stands currently, simple NHS foot care has already been withdrawn from many senior citizens, leaving them housebound and dependent (unnecessarily).

Prioritize? How about charging the idiots who clog up AE, at huge cost, as a result of binge drinking? Or maybe those who are on their umpteenth visit to the STD clinic?

Howard Crosse
.5 years ago

This is a very difficult subject, not least for someone like me who is an ardent fan of the UK's NHS. A quick, and pretty rough, look at the figures tells me that the NHS (publicly funded healthcare in the UK) is pretty expensive. The UK spends very roughly for 4 times its' total annual defence budget on publicly funded healthcare.

To put this in to context where the US to spend a similar proportion of its' available money (GDP) on public healthcare the budget would be around $995 bn per year which sounds like an awful lot of money but as of Jun 2011 the US (according to Wikipaedia) the US had spent $3,700 bn on operations in Iraq and Afganistan alone.

Every country has a limited budget, how it spends it is up to the elected Government of that country (who are carrying out the wishes of the electorate/tax payer – okay this is the way it should work). There is only so much money to go around – personally I'd rather see a bigger slice of the money being spent on looking after people and less of it spent on killing them but sadly that isn't always the way things work.

Meris Michaels
Meris Michaels5 years ago

This is very shocking. My mother, at age 96, was operated on to remove a malignant tumor and has survived to enjoy two more great grandchildren in her life. Of course, this was in the U.S. where per capita cost of health care is much higher than in the U.K. Is this one of the ways the U.K. is trying to cut down on medical costs? Try prevention: cleaning up the polluted environment (the conservative U.K. government is trying to legalize shale gas extraction and GMO agriculture). Try discouraging very small children from using cell phones, because in 15-20 years' time, there will be an explosion of serious illnesses that will cost the health care system dearly.

Laura mendez velazquez

Que no nos cause extrañeza: el mercado, hambriento insanciable de dinero, lo que quiere es obtener, no dar. Las personas son objetos, cosas y se ha fomentado la insensibilidad, la falta de empatía, la devastación, la competencia contra el otro a muerte, el egoísmo, la indiferencia, el miedo.... La humanidad se dirige a su propia aniquilación. Es una lástima pensar y actuar como si los ancianos (que todos lo seremos) no "valgan la pena" de ser respetados, cuidados, amados...

Flipping F.
D S5 years ago

SO very sad when the people that brought us here are now second class citizens! We would not be here if it was not for those that came before us! The worst is the people that make these laws have the money SO this will not effect there parents! SO very sad ....

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill5 years ago

This is where the US is heading with their health care because of ObamaCare.

Julia F.
Julia F.5 years ago

My mother is 89 has melanoma skin cancer she had been tested to see if her cancer would be helped by chemotherapy it would not,also she has decided against it, as at present her quality of life is good and the secondary effects of the chemo would probably debilitate her
Her treatment has been first class from all the medical and surgical staff she has met at the three hospitals she has been to in Wales
I realise this may be post code lottery and etc but
As Heather M. said it is about quality of life and fitness for the treatments

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran5 years ago


Nancy M.
Nancy M5 years ago

Sadly, my 83 yr old father had his heart tested before a cancer treatment to ensure he would be safe. He wasn't. Died a year later from sever congestive heart failure due to the chemotherapy. Don't know what the answer is here.