Contrary to popular belief, older adults with cancer are not more likely to refuse treatment, according to a new study commissioned by Macmillan Cancer Support in London.

The findings from the study, which were published in the Lancet Oncology, included 1,004 patients with cancer and 500 adults without cancer.1 The study found that there were no significant differences by age or cancer stage on the likelihood of a patient opting out of a specific treatment.

Jagtar Dhanda, who is head of Inclusion at Macmillan Cancer Support, said many older patients with cancer are simply not getting a fair deal when it comes to cancer care for a host of reasons.

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Dhanda said older adults in general do not have the same access to cancer treatments or the same rates of survival as younger patients with cancer. Dhanda said this new study reveals for the first time that it may be wrong to assume that the reason for these differences are due to older patients refusing cancer treatment more than younger patients.

Dhanda said there is a concern that some treatment decisions for older people are being made solely on the basis of their age rather than their actual capacity or preference to receive treatment.

All of the participants in this study were age 55 or older and they were asked about their attitudes and behaviors when it came to cancer treatment. The researchers found that 12% of patients age 75 or older said they opted not to have certain types of treatment compared with 15% of those age 55 to 64 and 14% of those age 65 to 74.

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Previous studies have suggested that older patients (age 65 and over) are far less likely to be given life-saving treatment than younger patients (age 55 to 64).

Dhanda said that needs to change. While the study showed that older adults were confident in pursuing treatment, they were less likely to question decisions about which treatment might be best for them than patients age 55 to 64.