July 30, 2010

Elderly Patients Fail to Receive New Cancer Therapy


Medical researchers from the University of New Mexico Cancer Center have discovered that elderly patients with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia did not receive an effective new therapy for that cancer nearly as much as younger patients. Chronic Myeloid Leukemia is a slow growing cancer of the bone marrow for which highly effective new therapy, imatinib (Gleevec) was released in 2001.  The National Cancer Institute (NCI) Patterns of Care study, published in the July 28 edition of The American Journal of Medicine, one of the nation’s leading general medicine journals, showed that use of this newer and more effective treatment of Chronic Myeloid Leukemia decreased significantly as the age of the patient increased. The study found that the decreased use of imatinib in older patients resulted in a marked decrease in their survival.

“The ‘Patterns of Care’ study shows that there is a significant treatment disparity in elderly cancer patients,” said Dr. Cheryl Willman, director and CEO of the UNM Cancer Center.  “We are thrilled that the UNM Cancer Center was involved in such a

groundbreaking study, which will have major repercussions on how elderly cancer patients are treated nationwide.”

Statistics from this Patterns of Care study show only 46 percent of Chronic Myeloid Leukemia patients aged 80 years-old or older received imatinib, which is considered the most effective treatment of this cancer.  The study showed a considerable increase in the amount of younger patients who received imatinib.  Nearly 90 percent of patients between the ages of 20- and 50-years-old received imatinib, and 75 percent of patients between the ages of 60- 79-years-old were prescribed the drug.  The results of the study showed that failure to receive imatinib resulted in poorer survival among Patterns of Care study elderly patients.

“We found that elderly patients who did not receive imatinib had a very poor survival rate.  The older the patient was at the time of his/her diagnosis, the less likely the physician is to prescribe this very effective treatment,” said Dr. Robert Hromas, Deputy Director of the UNM Cancer Center and researcher and author of the Patterns of Care study.  “We hope that this study will shed light on this disparity, and help to educate physicians on effective cancer treatment options for the elderly. We also hope it encourages elderly patients to become more proactive in their cancer care by discussing treatment options with their physicians.”

According to the study, this treatment disparity in elderly chronic myeloid leukemia patients may be caused in part by a lack of clinical trials reporting on possible toxicities in elderly patients. However, this study reports, physician behavior seemed to play a significant role in the lack of use of imatinib in elderly patients. This study recommends several remedies to improve the use of new cancer drugs in the elderly, including mandatory inclusion of older patients in clinical trials, and mandatory reporting of results in those patients, in order to improve physician education on benefits in these patients. The “Patterns of Care” study is published in the current issue of The American Journal of Medicine.

The UNM Cancer Center is the Official Cancer Center of the State of New Mexico, and one of only 64 National Cancer Institute designated cancer centers in the nation. It is home to 85 board-certified oncology physicians representing every cancer specialty and more than 120 research scientists hailing from such prestigious institutions as M.D. Anderson, Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic.

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Contact information:
Dorothy Hornbeck, JKPR, (505) 797-6673, dhornbeck@jameskorenchen.com
Rae Ann Paden, UNM Cancer Center, (505) 925-0480 RPaden@salud.unm.edu

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