The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Launches Pilot Program For Elderly Cancer Patients

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., Jan. 25 /PRNewswire/ -- The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society announced today the launch of a pilot program, "Breaking Through the Age Barrier." The launch coincides with the Society's release of a toolkit for older patients and their caregivers. The pilot program, for patients and healthcare professionals, aims to encourage older blood cancer patients to get the best possible care and equip their medical team with tools to make treatment decisions. At the core of the project is the Geriatric Assessment which helps providers recognize who will benefit from treatment who may have special needs that need to be addressed during treatment. A Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment checklist, which evaluates an individual's physical and emotional capacity to undergo and tolerate cancer treatment and its side effects, includes simple forms to fill out as well as physical and laboratory tests.

"Older patients may need special attention when it comes to cancer treatment," says Robin Kornhaber, the Society's Senior Vice President of Patient Services. "But the concept of being too old for cancer treatment is outdated." More than half of all cancers occur in people older than 65 years and they appear to benefit from treatment to the same extent as younger individuals.

Six-Chapter Pilot Program Introduces Geriatric Assessment

The Society's pilot program will be introduced this spring in Detroit, Mich., Palm Beach, Fla., Northern New Jersey, Upstate New York, Baltimore, Md., and Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Calif. Next year, the Society expects the program to be offered at each of its 63 chapter sites across the U.S. At the pilot sites this year, the Society will hold workshops for older patients to familiarize them with advocacy, communication and emotional aspects of battling blood cancer.

The Society will also introduce the Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment checklist (CGA) to elderly patients. Health care professionals review CGA criteria with patients to assess how much an older adult might benefit from cancer treatment and how well he or she would be likely to tolerate it. The CGA is also useful in identifying problems that can be remedied (such as poor nutrition), making cancer treatment safer for the individual.

By familiarizing elderly patients with this tool, the Society hopes patients will fully participate in this evaluation and even ask for such an assessment if one is not offered. This provides patients the opportunity to proactively engage in treatment decisions and also helps patients recognize the impact their general health, independence and emotional well-being may have on the success of their cancer treatment.

The CGA looks at a person's ability to carry out day-to-day activities independently (called functional status), the presence of other illnesses, living conditions and support, thinking and mood, other medications taken, nutrition and so-called geriatric syndromes.

Age Not a Barrier to Treatment

"Age alone is not enough to identify a patient's chances to benefit from cancer treatment," said Lodovico Balducci, M.D., program leader of the Senior Adult Oncology Program at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa. "One 75-year-old can be perfectly healthy with no other illnesses and be very independent and capable, while another may be struggling with other ailments and be completely dependent. Health care professionals who conduct a CGA with patients will get a more complete picture, and patients, in turn, when educated about the value of the CGA will find it more palatable and will likely be more engaged in their health care."

Without such an assessment, it is not unusual for an older patient to be turned away from a clinical trial (a controlled test of a new drug or medical device in humans) based on age or for a clinician to take a less-aggressive treatment tact with an elderly patient. When John Rowe of Washington, D.C., was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia in 2000, he was initially rattled, but quickly optimistic. He was 62 and in good health when the diagnosis came. He had heard about a new experimental drug (now marketed as Gleevec) in clinical trials and was going to see a 35-yr-old 'whiz kid' oncologist. The 'whiz kid,' however, consulted a statistical table, told Rowe that, at 62, he probably had between one and four years left, should get his affairs in order and the doctor would keep him comfortable until the end came. Rowe quickly collected his own patient records, ceased his relationship with the whiz kid, investigated the clinical trials on his own and was enrolled. He's been on Gleevec for four years and was in remission six months after starting on the drug.

Toolkit for Older Adults and Their Caregivers

In addition, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has published "A Toolkit for Older Adults with Cancer, and Their Caregivers." The brochure series includes pamphlets on choosing a healthcare team, understanding treatment options and clinical trials, money matters and a caregiver's guide. The brochure series, which is available free, can be obtained by calling The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Information Resource Center (IRC) at 1-800-955-4572. For information about the Breaking Through the Age Barrier pilot program and when it will be offered, patients are encouraged to call their local chapters.

About The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

The Society, headquartered in White Plains, NY, with 63 chapters in the United States and additional branches in Canada, is the world's largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research and providing education and patient services. The Society's mission: Cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. Since its founding in 1949, the Society has invested more than $360 million in research specifically targeting leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. Last year alone, the Society made more than 812,000 contacts with patients, caregivers and healthcare professionals.

For more information about blood cancer, visit http://www.lls.org/ or call the Society's Information Resource Center (IRC), a call center staffed by master's level social workers, nurses and health educators who provide information, support and resources to patients and their families and caregivers. IRC information specialists are available at (800) 955-4572, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

CONTACT: Andrea Greif, Director, Public Relations, +1-914-821-8958; orJennifer Corrigan, +1-732-382-8898, both of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

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