Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

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Are we effectively supporting all sections of the older population?

As part of the national focus of Cancer, Older People and Advocacy, programme manager the Older People’s Advocacy Alliance (OPAAL) is looking at how successfully we support minority sections of the older population.


We’ve got to start somewhere so we’re developing delivery partners’ knowledge and understanding of supporting older people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Trans (LGBT). Already partners have attended training sessions run by Opening Doors London and those who attended are cascading their knowledge locally. In addition, delivery partners are working with LGBT organisations in their own localities to develop and expand their local knowledge.


Most of us take for granted that our partners and families will be fully involved in meetings and discussions following a cancer diagnosis. What if it’s not made easy for the older LGBT person to identify their significant other whom they want involved in the same way? A diagnosis is a difficult enough thing to face without having to deal with other people’s assumptions or indeed their discriminatory views and/or behaviour. That’s why it’s really important not only that we raise awareness but also why we need to recruit older LGBT people who have been affected by cancer to be trained as peer advocates.

At OPAAL we’re really lucky to have Trustee Roger Newman helping us understand how we as a national membership organisation can best support our members develop best practice.

Roger Newman

Roger Newman

You can follow Roger’s personal blog where he publishes posts from his viewpoint as an older gay man. It’s truly illuminating and very informative. Recently Roger and his partner Nigel featured in a Guardian article about love in later life. The article has two stories, Roger and Nigel’s and Leslie and Barbara’s. Both stories are heart warming and can be found here.


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Patients deemed too old for treatment

Great news: “Tens of thousands of pensioners diagnosed with cancer have survived for at least a decade.” Bad news: “some patients are being deemed as too old for treatment and are not assessed on their overall fitness.”

A recent article in the Guardian points to research from Macmillan Cancer Support and the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) which found that more than 130,000 people in the UK have survived for at least 10 years after being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 65 or above. That number included more than 8,000 patients who were diagnosed at the age of 80 and over. But despite the large number of older people who are “long-term” survivors of the disease, Macmillan said many patients in the UK are being denied treatment because they are deemed to be too old. It said that cancer survival rates in this age group are “poor”.

Macmillan pointed out that survival rates in the UK compared badly with those on the continent and warned of what it saw as a worrying trend in the way people are treated.

For many common cancers – including prostate, breast, lung, stomach, ovarian and kidney cancers – the UK and Ireland have a lower five-year survival rate than the rest of Europe.

Age discrimination is something we’re constantly battling against but generally it’s an inconvenience and we’ve got time to do something about it. Being diagnosed with cancer isn’t always the death sentence we think it is but for some older cancer patients it seems it may be since they’re being denied the possibility of curative treatments.

This has to stop NOW!

Our cancer advocacy project, in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support, is working hard to support older people affected by cancer. Our trained advocates are helping ensure that older people can get past any barriers which prevent access to helpful and life-prolonging treatments.

Health professionals must be supported to realise we’re all different regardless of our age. We all have different physical attributes and different attitudes to life and death. Our age doesn’t suddenly make us homogeneous; we continue to be different throughout our lives and we should be treated as the individuals we are.

Marie McWilliams