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Cancer to Affect One in Four Older People by 2040

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Society is ageing - by 2040 one in four of the UK population will be at least 65 years old, up from one in six today. It's quite possible that like me, you or a loved one will be part of that age group. So a new study funded by Macmillan Cancer Support should give pause for thought. It shows that by 2040 over four million over-65s will be living with cancer in the UK. That is one in four of all over 65s and almost double the proportion in 2010.

More people surviving cancer is a good thing. But at Macmillan we also know that older cancer patients face a multitude of barriers to getting the best care and treatment. Unless action is taken, more older cancer patients will mean more people affected by under-treatment.

Cancer is the toughest fight most of us will ever face and we have a duty to give people the best chance of beating the disease, regardless of their age. All patients are individual and older people with cancer have differing levels of frailty, mental attitude and support. One 85-year-old may tolerate chemotherapy well, while another may experience complications. Likewise some 78-year-olds may be bed-bound, while others compete in marathons. Decisions about care should never be based on age alone - older people must be given the right treatment at the right level of intensity, together with the practical support they need to take it up.

It is not simply about ensuring older patients receive appropriate diagnosis and treatment - the long-term physical side-effects of cancer can occur at any time after treatment ends. In a Macmillan survey from 2008, almost three-quarters of people who had finished their treatment for cancer more than 10 years previously had in the previous twelve months experienced a physical condition linked to their cancer.

As part of Macmillan's Age Old Excuse campaign, which aims to highlight the problems older people face during cancer treatment, we are calling for a more effective way of assessing older people for treatment, more short-term practical support and more training for NHS professionals working with older people. Together with Age UK and the UK Department of Health, we have set up five pilots to test new models of older people's care. These pilots will show how we can fix the problems not just point at them. But there is a limit to what even the best pilots and the best charities can do.

Numbers such as these must be a wake-up call for the wider National Health Service and for social care providers. Large increases in people surviving cancer in the oldest age groups will place an unsustainably large demand upon health and social care services. In the long term a fundamental reform of care is needed and future care must be personal, close to home, and coordinated.

In the short term however, we must recognise the issue, face up to it, and adapt how we look after our older neighbours. Because in 2040, it might well be us.

For more information about Macmillan's Age Old Excuse campaign, visit our website.

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