Growing old with cancer

24 February 2020

Ageing is a known risk factor for cancer and currently, 60% of people who have cancer are aged 65 and over. This figure is expected to double over the next two decades. UICC is partnering with Sanofi to help address the challenges of ageing with cancer.

People are living longer than ever before, and the global population is growing older at a more rapid pace. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the share of the population aged over 65 will reach close to 40% in some countries by 2050. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by then, 80% of older people will be living in low -and middle-income countries. An ageing population will have profound consequences for health systems and will require tailored policies, health budgets and a trained workforce.

UICC has recently partnered with Sanofi, a French multinational pharmaceutical company headquartered in Paris, France, to help address the challenges of ageing with cancer. Through Sanofi’s ‘When Cancer grows old’ initiative, the global cancer community will help find solutions and create change for elderly patients with cancer.

“Ageing and cancer is an issue that we need to address, and I am hopeful that through this partnership we can engender some real support from other organisations to look at the specific challenges faced by the older generation,” said Dr Cary Adams, Chief Executive Officer of the UICC.

Lack of awareness of symptoms

Age adds a layer of complexity to living with cancer that should not be underestimated. Older patients often take cancer symptoms for everyday pain or a minor illness associated with old age. This may delay the diagnosis and weaken the chances of survival. According to the OECD, ageing is not an equal process. Inequalities compound over the life course, in particular between high- and low- educated populations. Information and guidance geared towards the older age-group and their caregivers are often lacking.

A challenging patient journey

When it comes to cancer treatment for older patients it can be a very different journey compared to the treatment of a younger patient. Older patients are more likely to suffer from other chronic conditions which may limit the use of certain therapies. UICC members who are specialised in this field such as SIOG and ASCO also report that older patients are often more vulnerable to treatment toxicities that might affect their quality of life.

Public health systems not ready to cope

Due to the rapid increase of the number of people over 65, many healthcare systems are not ready to cope with the demand of people living with cancer and other multiple chronic conditions who may require long-term care.

“With the increase of ageing populations and incidence of cancer worldwide, more action from the cancer community needs to take place to adapt the healthcare systems to be more patient-centric and inclusive of ageing populations to ensure healthy ageing for all”. Dr Cary Adams, Chief Executive Officer of the UICC

UICC hosted a workshop on the topic of cancer and ageing at the 2019 World Cancer Leaders’ Summit in Kazakhstan, a high-level global cancer control policy meeting. The objective was to facilitate the exchange between member organisations and to identify the biggest challenges related to cancer and ageing. More than 40 cancer organisations provided insights into this session. Participants identified the following key challenges:  

  • The lack of data and high-level evidence as elderly people are underrepresented in clinical trials 
  • The fact that healthcare systems are not well prepared to support ageing populations 
  • Access to adapted information and resources for patients and their families/ caregivers 
  • The lack of a more holistic approach to patient care 

Find out more about the results of the workshop here. Information about the ‘When Cancer grows old’ initiative is available here.

Last update: 
Friday 26 August 2022