Age Old Excuse

We believe that age is just a number. It’s not an excuse to treat older people with cancer differently. That’s why we want to make sure older people are offered cancer treatment and care based on their needs, not on their age.

We called for:

  • Older people to be offered treatment and care based on their fitness rather than their age
  • Services to be made accessible to meet the needs of older people
  • Staff to be given the time and training needed to provide the best possible care.

Watch our campaign film, featuring Patrick Stewart, showing why older people should be treated as individuals.

What's the issue?

We all have different needs and older people are no exception. Some are frail, whilst others are fit and active. Regardless of age, everyone should get the treatment that’s right for them.

But the UK has some of the worst cancer survival rates in Europe for older people. Every year there are around 14,000 avoidable cancer deaths in people over 75. One of the reasons for this is that they are sometimes not offered the right treatment.

For example, studies have shown that breast cancer patients over 70 are much less likely to receive surgery than those under 70. And stories we are hearing directly from older people with cancer and health professionals are also worrying.

Your stories

Beryl, 84

I was shocked to be diagnosed with bowel cancer, as I’d had no symptoms or pain. I was told I’d need surgery to remove half my bowel.

I’m a widow and live on my own, so after the surgery my son came to give me a lift back to my flat. After I was discharged from the hospital, I was left to look after myself - I didn’t even get a wheelchair to get down to my son’s car. I wasn’t offered hospital transport or help to cover the cost of taxis to and from appointments.

When I got home the first week was awful. I lost a lot of weight as I couldn’t eat after the surgery. I couldn’t wash myself or clean the flat, which made me feel very depressed. I had no idea who to speak to for help, and no support when I needed it the most.

I had no idea who to speak to for help.

Beryl, 84

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Geoff, 66

I went to my GP after suffering a burning sensation on passing urine. He thought it was likely to be an infection and put me on antibiotics.

When they didn’t work, I went back. The specialists soon confirmed that I had prostate cancer.

What surprised me most was a discussion about my treatment options. I was told that I could have surgery to remove the tumour if the cancer hadn’t spread. But they explained that if I was over 70, they may not have offered to operate at all.

I thought that was discriminatory, and clearly ageist. The role of the medical profession is to prolong life, no matter what age. Surgery could give someone another 20 years.

They explained that if I was over 70, they may not have offered to operate at all.

Geoff, 66

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John, 86

I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1995 after an awareness campaign prompted me to go for a check up.

I had been going to the toilet more frequently than normal and after tests it was decided that I undergo radiation treatment.

Seventeen years on I’m in remission and only require annual check-ups.

Throughout my life I’ve always been active and 11 years ago I read an article in a newspaper about Argentine tango. I was immediately interested and had always loved tango music, but I was 75 at the time and thought ‘am I too old to start?’ The lady I spoke to said ‘no, as long as you can walk you can tango’. That was 11 years ago and I haven’t stopped dancing since.

I may limp when I walk, but not when I dance.

I was 75 at the time and thought "am I too old?

John, 86

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Joyce, 81

I don’t drive so I’ve always walked everywhere. I soon got into my local walking group and now I’m very experienced. I plan and lead Rambler walks that some would find difficult but for me it’s quite easy!

I’m a very active person, people find it surprising because of my age. In between my involvement in the Ramblers I also look after my nephew’s children to help their mother out – she has two jobs and often needs an extra pair of hands. They’re very young and full of energy, they certainly keep me on my feet!

I was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago. I’m 82 next year and not afraid to say it! I find it surprising that some people will still make judgements on a person because of their age. We’re all different.

I’m 82 next year and not afraid to say it!

Joyce, 81

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Share your story

We are interested in hearing from older people who feel that their treatment was based on their age rather than physical fitness. We also want to hear about any practical problems you faced which prevented you from accessing treatment. Email us at campaigns@macmillan.org.uk.

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