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50+: Live Better, Longer

Older Colon Cancer Patients Should Receive Same Treatment

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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Oct. 10, 2001 -- Doctors tend to treat people with colon cancer differently if they are over the age of 70, but a new study shows that this practice is not giving the elderly the best available treatment.

But we can't blame the doctors. Currently, we don't have any proof that aggressive treatment for colon cancer in people over the age of 70 is what's best for them. Doctors are concerned that the elderly will not be able to withstand the harsh effects of chemotherapy, and medical research has not yet shown them otherwise.

For this reason, doctors tend to not treat elderly people with any type of cancer with all the best available weapons. But research out of the Mayo Clinic might help change this -- at least for colon cancer.

Researcher Daniel J. Sargent, PhD, and colleagues looked at over 3,300 people of all ages with colon cancer who had been involved in three different large medical trials. They compared people who had their cancer removed and then also received chemotherapy to those who had just undergone surgery with no further treatment.

They found that people of all ages -- whether they were under or over 70 -- did much better if they received both surgery and chemotherapy. Those who received both treatments lived longer without their cancer coming back.

Plus, people over the age of 70 were no more likely than their younger counterparts to have side effects from the chemotherapy, although one of the studies did show that elderly people had a little more trouble with low white blood cell counts, making them more likely to have an infection.

The researchers suggest that since everyone with colon cancer did better when they received both surgery and chemotherapy, treatment should be based on how serious the person's cancer is and not on how old they are.

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