Elderly cancer sufferers die in greater numbers than younger patients because of NHS ageism, official figures suggest.
Only half of sufferers aged 75 and over will live more than a year, compared with the three quarters of those in middle age who can expect to do so.
Campaigners warn that thousands of patients are written off by doctors who assume they will prove too frail for lifesaving treatment.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in 2009 only 53 per cent of patients over 75 diagnosed with cancer were alive one year later. By comparison 74 per cent of those diagnosed aged 55 to 64 survived for this length of time. Many are likely to live far longer.
Macmillan Cancer Support estimates that up to 15,000 patients over 75 are dying prematurely every year – based on comparisons with survival rates in other European countries.
Mike Hobday, director of policy and research at the charity, said: ‘We know older people are less likely to receive curative treatment than younger patients.
‘We are concerned that treatment decisions are too often being made on the basis of a patient’s age, regardless of how fit or frail they may be. Overall cancer survival is improving but worryingly older people are still much less likely to survive the first year.’
Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK’s director of policy, said: ‘Older people may feel reluctant to see a doctor or they may dismiss possible cancer symptoms as part of old age. If cancer survival rates in the UK are to improve we urgently need to address variations in survival by age.
‘Spotting cancer early really is key, cancer patients of all ages need to be diagnosed as soon as possible so that they can be offered all the treatment options available, regardless of how old they are.’
Article from Mail Online