Being over 70 should not stop patients from getting aggressive treatment of the most malignant form of brain cancer with radiation therapy, French researchers reported Wednesday.
Because the tumor, glioblastoma, typically kills half its victims within a year, doctors have been unsure about whether it is worthwhile to even treat older patients.
A team led by Florence Keime-Guibert at the Universite Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris found that 42 patients who simply received supportive care survived for an average of 17 weeks, which is typical for younger patients as well.
But 39 volunteers who also received radiation therapy typically got an extra 12 weeks of life. This is a significant difference, although not as much as younger patients get with radiation treatment.
Both groups of elderly patients reported a similar quality of life, an important factor in determining whether to undertake aggressive care.
The study, in the New England Journal of Medicine, is unusual because it focused on older patients.
“Only 22 to 36 percent of patients 65 years of age or older participate in trials for cancer therapy, even though they represent nearly 60 percent of the population with cancer,” Lillian Siu of the University of Toronto wrote in a commentary.
She said the results of clinical trials involving younger people should not be used as the basis for treating older people. Doctors should do more to enroll older patients in clinical trials, Siu said.