The National Cancer Institute (NCI), in collaboration with the National Institute on Aging (NIA), is launching a major cancer education initiative targeting Americans 65 years of age and older and the health professionals who serve them.
"The same diagnosis and treatment approaches that reduce suffering and death in younger groups also help older Americans," said NCI Director Samuel Broder, MD. "Breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and other cancers common in the later years can yield to better prevention, diagnosis, and treatment."
John Burklow, NCI's coordinator of the education initiative, said that education efforts are needed to bring the latest information about cancer to older people; increase early detection and other health promotion practices in this age group; and increase the proportion of older patients who receive optimal cancer treatment. The initiative will use an intergenerational approach, which will include children and caregivers of older Americans.
Cancer affects persons age 65 or older more frequently than any other age group. Nearly 60% of all cancers occur in persons age 65 or older, although they represent only 12% of the population. Older Americans, those 65 and over, are 10 times more likely to develop cancer than those under 65.
The population of older Americans is growing at a rapid pace. According to US census estimates, this age group is expected to double in size from just under 32 million in 1990 to more than 64 million persons by 2030.
For persons under age 65, the cancer death rate declined 4.5% in the period 1973 to 1987. In contrast, the overall cancer mortality for persons age 65 or older has increased 1 3% during the same 1 5-year period.
Despite these statistics, a number of studies have found that many older Americans are unaware or uninformed about cancer risk and what they can do about it. For example, an NCI survey showed that people age 65 or older were much less likely to think they were at risk of getting cancer than were people age 45 to 54. Other surveys show that older adults are less likely than younger adults to have tests that can detect cancer in early, often more treatable stages.
For more information, contact John Burklow, National Cancer Institute, Building 31, Room 4B43, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD, 20892; 301496-6792.