Managing Cancer in Older Adults

I am someone who believes fervently in screening for colon cancer, and have had two colonoscopies (separated by 5 years). Even those at normal risk seem to benefit from some form of screening, and I have been particularly concerned because I have had close relatives afflicted by the disease. However, it is clear that many people who should know better refuse to be screened. Even simple screening tests such as fecal occult blood testing require people to endure relatively unpleasant activities, and colonoscopy prep is hardly fun.

Independent of my views, it is obvious that the rising prevalence of cancer of all types in Canada is a result of the aging of our population and the relative decline in cardiovascular mortality. Many of today’s cancer patients are relatively frail, or become so while getting treatment, and attention to geriatric medicine principles in these patients is important. Most oncology training programs in the United States incorporate a geriatric module to cover these issues. We are lagging a bit behind in Canada in this respect, but I am proud to say that one of the nation’s outstanding leaders in the field of geriatric oncology is our own senior editor, Dr. Shabbir Alibhai. The focus of this month’s edition is how cancer management is altered in older adults.

Our continuing education article, “Management of Primary Colon Cancer in Older Adults,” is by Dr. Robin McLeod, Selina Schmocker, and Dr. Erin Kennedy. Obviously, I hope never to have to worry about this because I have a commitment to screening! The very common ( and currently in the press) topic of “Multiple Myeloma in Older Adults: An Update” is written by Dr. Madappa N. Kundranda and Dr. Joseph Mikhael. The commonest cancer in older individuals is addressed in the article “Basal Cell Carcinoma” by Dr. Christian A. Murray and Dr. Erin Dahlke.

As well, we have our usual collection of articles on varied topics. Our Cardiovascular column is an “Update on the Management of Atrial Fibrillation in Older Adults” by Dr. Hatim Al Lawati, Dr. Fatemeh Akbarian, and Dr. Mohammad Ali Shafiee. Our Dementia article is on a common and difficult topic, “Withholding and Withdrawing Life-Sustaining Treatment in Advanced Dementia: How and When to Make These Difficult Decisions,” by Dr. Dylan Harris. In the area of nutrition, we have the article “Nutrition Guidelines for Cancer Prevention: More Than Just Food for Thought” by Kristen Currie, Sheri Stillman, Susan Haines, and Dr. John Trachtenberg. This is a natural extension from our focus this month. Our Community Care article is “Community-Based Health Care for Frail Seniors: Development and Evaluation of a Program” by Dr. Douglas C. Duke and Teresa Genge. Finally we feature one of Canada’s most prominent physicians in our “I Am a Geriatrician” column, namely Dr. Howard Bergman.

Enjoy this issue,
Barry Goldlist