NCCS study shows that elderly cancer patients in good mental and emotional health are likely to have a better chance of recovery than those who are not

Depression was one of six factors identified as having a direct impact on the survival rate of elderly Asian cancer patients. The study, reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (20 Sep 2011) was carried out on 249 elderly patients who were attending the oncology clinic at National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS)​, a member of the SingHealth​ group.

“We conduct screening tests for our elderly cancer patients as part of the Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment (CGA). The CGA analyses six factors that could predict the overall survival rate of elderly cancer patients,” says Dr Ravindran Kanesvaran​, one of the study’s researchers and Consultant at the Departme​nt of Medical Oncology​, NCCS.

If the elderly cancer patients show signs of depression – detectable in their negative moods and feelings, loss of appetite and sleep, or loss of interest in life – they are referred to a psychiatrist for a thorough evaluation of their psychological state before recommending treatment, Dr Kanesvaran adds.

Other factors affecting the elderly's cancer survival rate

Besides depression, the study identified five other factors that could affect elderly cancer patients’ survival rate:

  • Stage of cancer

  • Elderly cancer patients with advanced cancer (stages III and IV) have a poorer prognosis.

  • Abnormal albumin levels (indicator of severe malnutrition)

  • Low albumin (protein) levels in the blood, evident from the swelling of the body, usually indicate worsening of the disease and a poorer prognosis. Proper nutrition and intravenous albumin supplementation may temporarily raise albumin levels.

  • Cognitive impairment (e.g. dementia)

  • Elderly cancer patients who are cognitively impaired have a poorer prognosis than those who are not. Dementia can affect a patient’s compliance to treatment.

  • Co-morbidity (existence of one or two additional diseases)

  • Elderly cancer patients, who suffer from diseases in addition to cancer, are found to have a worse cancer survival rate than those who are only battling cancer.

  • Poor ECOG status (defined as Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group performance status or functional capacity for daily living)

  • Elderly cancer patients, who are able to perform normal daily activities independently, have a significantly better survival rate than those who are totally dependent on others.

Read on to find out elderly cancer patients' survival rates​ can be improved.

Ref: P16