Cancer information for all ages

Since May is officially Older Americans Month, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute saw this week as a good time to release its collection of essays written by Moffitt researchers that study cancer in the elderly.

Even though the focus of the essays concentrates on the elderly, Dr. John Greene, a physician at Moffitt who specializes in infections and cancers found in all ages, said students may still benefit from this information.

“Students will know about what problems their grandparents would face, and then 40 years later, when they’re that old, hopefully there’ll be more advances,” he said.

Greene wrote an essay for the collection titled “Infections – Some Preventable – Can Be Especially Harmful For Older Cancer Patients.” The purpose of the essay collection is to inform people about cancer and the facts around it. Now is the time to look at less toxic treatments for the future, Greene said.

Because one’s immune system is less efficient with age, treatment of cancer is more difficult on the body.

“The immune system keeps cells from turning into cancer, but when you’re older, the surveillance system weakens,” Greene said.

According to Greene, older patients must take a lesser dose of chemotherapy and other treatments than younger people because of the severity of the treatment and a higher likelihood of infection. Whereas a 20-year-old may have a 60 percent chance of beating leukemia, an 80-year-old may have a 20 percent chance because older patients can only take as much treatment as their bodies will tolerate.

“Though it is true that older individuals, and especially older individuals with cancer, are more susceptible to infections,” Greene wrote in his essay, “the fear of infection should not be a reason for shying away from effective cancer treatment.”

Greene said cancer and infection are the leading cause of death for people age 65 or older. Leukemia and lymphomas are two types of cancers that are particularly difficult for older people to fight.

Other topics discussed in the collection of essays include signs of cancer in the elderly, the significance of how to perform surgeries, and the issue between cure and treatment. Some of the background research for the essay collection comes from data collected from studying cancer patients in Moffitt’s Senior Adult Oncology program and other cancer centers with similar programs.

Moffitt holds health fairs and seminars several times a year. The essay collections, also called monographs, are released quarterly on different topics involving cancer and are available to the public upon request. This monograph was the sixth in a series of former publications.