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Prepare Now for Aging Population’s Breast Cancer Surge, Doctors Urge at NCCN Annual Conference

HOLLYWOOD, Fla., March 27, 2008 —Americans older than 65 years are expected to double from 40 million in 2010 to 80 million in 2040. This will lead to a large increase in breast cancer among American women, the leader of a task force reported during the National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s 13th Annual Conference.

But is the medical community ready? Stanford oncologist and Professor Robert W. Carlson, M.D., who chairs NCCN’s task force on breast cancer in the older adult, says many questions are unanswered. Treatment of women older than 70 is often summed up in footnotes that simply acknowledge lack of data.

The task force, which consists of medical doctors and a patient advocate, considered whether the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology™: Breast Cancer should be expanded to include separate instructions concerning elderly patients. However, because women over age 70 are underrepresented on clinical trials, too few facts exist to underpin a more helpful recommendation.

Currently the median age of women diagnosed with breast cancer is 61 years, a number likely to go up as baby boomers create a “ripple,” Carlson explains. Advanced age complicates decisions about cancer regimens not only because older women may need extra supportive therapies to survive the stress of cancer treatment, but also because lifespan is an issue. “The benefit of treatment has to be bigger in a relative sense to be worth it in an absolute sense in the older patient because of competing causes of death.”

New tests are “desperately needed” to determine an elderly patient’s physiologic age so that her doctor can make wise recommendations regarding surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, Carlson says. Oncologists will look to geriatricians to abbreviate current tests of a patient’s functioning. To be useful in the context of cancer treatment, tests that can take from two to three hours to administer must be distilled to five-minute formats.

Carlson outlines several “research issues important to address over the next decade:”

  • More ways to assess a patient’s “functional reserves”
  • Better understanding of patients’ priorities
  • Interaction of tumor biology and treatment
  • Physician attitudes toward older patients

Proceedings of the task force are scheduled to be published in an upcoming supplement to JNCCN – The Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

About the National Comprehensive Cancer Network

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®), a not-for-profit alliance of 27 leading cancer centers, is dedicated to improving the quality and effectiveness of care provided to patients with cancer. Through the leadership and expertise of clinical professionals at NCCN Member Institutions, NCCN develops resources that present valuable information to the numerous stakeholders in the health care delivery system. As the arbiter of high-quality cancer care, NCCN promotes the importance of continuous quality improvement and recognizes the significance of creating clinical practice guidelines appropriate for use by patients, clinicians, and other health care decision-makers. The primary goal of all NCCN initiatives is to improve the quality, effectiveness, and efficiency of oncology practice so patients can live better lives. For more information, visit NCCN.org.

The NCCN Member Institutions are:

  • Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center
  • Case Comprehensive Cancer Center/University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center and Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute
  • City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center | Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center
  • Duke Cancer Institute
  • Fox Chase Cancer Center
  • Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah
  • Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center/Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
  • The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins
  • Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University
  • Mayo Clinic Cancer Center
  • Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
  • Moffitt Cancer Center
  • The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center - James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute
  • Roswell Park Cancer Institute
  • Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine
  • St. Jude Children's Research Hospital/The University of Tennessee Health Science Center
  • Stanford Cancer Institute
  • University of Alabama at Birmingham Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center
  • UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • University of Colorado Cancer Center
  • University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center
  • Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center
  • Yale Cancer Center/Smilow Cancer Hospital