Geriatric oncology: A clinical approach to the older patient with cancer

L. Repetto, A. Venturino, L. Fratino, D. Serraino, G. Troisi, W. Gianni, M. Pietropaolo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Due to the ageing of the population and the sharp increase in life expectancy, cancer in the older person has become an increasingly common problem in the Western world. Although several authors have stressed that elderly cancer patients deserve special attention as a target group for research efforts, older aged patients are still less likely to be offered participation in clinical trials. The cellular and molecular mechanisms regulating the physiological process of ageing and senescence are far from understood, although inflammation is likely to play an important role, at least in some cancers. In addition, the relationship between ageing and cancer risk is also far from understood. One of the most intriguing aspects of ageing is how different the ageing process is from person to person; the basis for this variation is largely unknown. Population-based studies and longitudinal surveys have shown that comorbidity and physical and mental functioning are important risk factors; thus, a meaningful assessment of comorbidity and disability should be implemented in clinical practice. Modern geriatrics is targeted towards patients with multiple problems. Such patients are not simply old, but are geriatric patients because of interacting psychosocial and physical problems. As a consequence, the health status of old persons cannot be evaluated by merely describing the single disease, and/or by measuring the response, or survival after treatment. Conversely, it is necessary to conduct a more comprehensive investigation of the 'functional status' of the aged person. A geriatric consultation provides a variety of relevant information and enables the healthcare team to manage the complexity of health care in the elderly; this process is referred to as the Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment (CGA). The use of CGA is now being introduced into oncological practice. The definition of frailty is still controversial and represents a major issue of debate in clinical geriatrics. As the frail population increases, clinical trials in frail persons are needed. The usefulness of these trials requires a consensus as to the definition of frailty. Clearly, the management of older persons with cancer requires the acquisition of special skills in the evaluation of the older person and in the recognition and management of emergencies as well as experience in geriatric case management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)870-880
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal of Cancer
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - May 2003


  • Ageing
  • Cancer
  • Comprehensive geriatric assessment
  • Elderly patients
  • Geriatric evaluation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Hematology
  • Oncology


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