Friday 15th April 2016
Mac Voice, the magazine for Macmillan professionals: Spring 2016
Macmillan Head of Inclusion, Jagtar Dhanda, describes the key findings of recent Macmillan research into cancer and older people.
By 2030, it’s expected that 22% of the UK population will be made up of people aged 65 and above, and the fastest growing age group within this demographic will be those aged 85 or over.  This has obvious implications for our health and social care systems, not least when you consider that older age is the biggest risk factor for cancer incidence. Older people are also likely to experience significant variation in cancer outcomes. With that in mind, it’s crucial that we not only try to expand our evidence base, but also that we work with older people to drive solutions to improve their poorer outcomes.
Exploring attitudes and behaviours
Last year, the Macmillan Inclusion Department commissioned the research consultancy Ipsos MORI to survey 1,500 people – both with and without cancer – to compare the attitudes of people aged 65 and over with those aged between 55 and 64. We did this because, while in recent years there have been welcome developments in the evidence base on outcomes for older people affected by cancer in the UK, little is known about the attitudes of older people themselves towards cancer. This includes their knowledge, beliefs and behaviours, and how these might impact upon outcomes.
The research shows that there are a range of factors and values that determine how older people seek and access support, as well the importance they may place on active treatment. But these values and attitudes do not translate into older people getting access to treatment. Cancer care needs to remain patient-centred and healthcare professionals must be proactively involved in adopting assessment methods that test a person’s overall physical and mental well-being, to ensure treatment decisions are not based on age alone.
This approach has been recognised by the recent Cancer Strategy for England. In order to help with designing this method, Macmillan has convened an Expert Reference Group for Geriatric Oncology which brings together older people living with cancer and a range of health and social care professionals. However, an intervention to improve the assessment of older people will in itself not be enough. Macmillan’s patient research identifies that it is often when treatment finishes that many additional problems arise for older people. If patients are to manage their illness and stay out of hospital, a broader range of support will need to be applied, which connects multidisciplinary teams across health and social care.
The report, Exploring the Attitudes and Behaviours of Older People Living With Cancer, is available here.
1. Office for National Statistics. Measuring National Well-being Social Trends 42 – Population. 2012.