Having cancer treatment

A diagnosis of cancer at any age can be overwhelming. Older people who helped develop the OlderCan resources told us that having a diagnosis of cancer can feel like “your original life is over”. 

Before decisions are made about the best approach to treating your cancer, it is important that you talk about your goals and preferences for care, and what you would and would not want to happen, should you become very unwell. Not everyone wants this level of discussion, but for many people it is very important and reassuring to talk through options and approaches to treatment. 

Goals of treatment 

Your cancer team will talk with you about the goals of your treatment and these may include: 

  • Having treatment that aims to cure your cancer  
  • Having treatment to slow down your cancer and manage any symptoms you may experience
  • You may choose not to have active treatment, that is, treatment used to try to cure or stop cancer.  For some people, having expert pain and symptom management provided by a palliative care team may be the preferred and most appropriate choice.  

Palliative care focuses on expert pain and symptom management, irrespective of someone’s cancer type or the stage of their disease. It can be appropriate at any time during a person’s cancer pathway, even if their cancer can be cured.

It is important that the care and treatment provided is the most appropriate for a person’s situation, values, goals and life preferences. To achieve this, information is needed to guide discussions with the cancer team about different treatment options and approaches. 

Find out more about different types of cancer treatments.

It is important that older people in partnership with their cancer team consider the treatment that best meets their needs and preferences.

Access to treatment  

While your age should not affect the treatments that you are offered, research studies show that doctors do not always offer older adults the full range of treatments available if they think these treatments are not suitable for them. (Reference: Cancer Australia)

Most often, these decisions are appropriate. For example an 80 year old person cannot be offered the chance to take part in a clinical trial, if the trial has been designed for people under the age of 65 years.  

But sometimes, treatment decisions are made solely on the basis of age, so it’s very important to ask questions about why the treatment you have been offered is the best one for you, and what other options there may be. 

“People do miss out on treatment because of their age”  

Older and Wiser participant 

Clinical Trials

A clinical trial is a research study that investigates whether a new test or treatment is safe and effective for people with cancer.

Older people are not well represented in clinical trials. Most clinical trials include people who are between 18 and 64 years of age (Reference: Elderly patients in clinical trials). But the importance of including older adults in cancer clinical trials, so that there is greater understanding of what treatments are most appropriate for people over the age of 64 years, is becoming more recognised. You can ask your doctor if there is a clinical trial that might be suitable for you.

“Roger participated in a clinical trial at the point when he was very unwell. He went ahead mainly because he thought this may help other older people in the future, it may potentially give hope to others”. 

Roger’s carer, aged 78 yrs 

Telehealth is a consultation over the phone or via a video link which is now being used widely in health settings. This can be an ideal time to talk about your needs and concerns. Telehealth offers people who live in regional and rural Australia a greater chance to take part in a cancer clinical trial (called a Teletrial).

Find more information about Tele-trials.

Find more information about Clinical Trials.