The application of the principles of geriatrics to the management of the older person with cancer

Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2000 Sep;35(3):147-54. doi: 10.1016/s1040-8428(00)00089-5.


Is the patient going to die of cancer or with cancer? Is the patient going to suffer pain and disability due to cancer? Is the patient able to tolerate aggressive life-prolonging treatment? This paper tries to reply to the fundamentals of these questions by introducing the multidimensional assessment that evaluates areas where age-related changes are more likely. Chronologic age cannot be used to predict the degree of comorbidity and of functional deterioration of the single individual up to age 85 at least. Assessment of aging includes health, functional status, nutrition, cognition, socio-economic and emotion evaluations. This multidisciplinary assessment is referred to as comprehensive geriatric assessment (CGA). The risk of comorbid conditions increases with age and may result in underdiagnosis: in older patients, new symptoms may not be clearly recognized by the patient and may be dismissed by practitioners as manifestations of preexisting conditions. A meaningful assessment of comorbidity may be obtained with a comorbidity index. The Charlson scale and the Chronic Illness Rating Scale - Geriatric (CIRS-G), have enjoyed the widest acceptance. The Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADL) and the Activities of Daily Living (ADL) are the most sensitive assessment of function in older individuals. IADLs include shopping, managing finances, housekeeping, laundry, meal preparation, ability to use transportation and telephone and ability to take medications: in simple words, the IADLs are those skills a person needs to live independently. ADLs include feeding, grooming, transferring, toileting and are the skills necessary for basic living. Though a correlation exists among comorbidity, performance status, ADL and IADL, this correlation is not strong enough to be reflected in a single parameter. The Folstein Mini Mental Status (MMS), is the instrument of most frequent use to screen older individuals for dementia. The main problem with the MMS is lack of sensitivity to early stages of dementia. The Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS), a simple tool that can be completed by most patients at home, doubles the rate of detection of depression. The Mini Nutritional assessment is very sensitive to screen older persons for malnutrition. The risk of polypharmacy increases with age and partly results from the fact that older patients visit different practitioners. A CGA should also include evaluation of the so called Geriatric Syndromes like delirium, incontinence, osteoporosis, all of which represent a hallmark of frailty. The CGA may help the management of older individuals with cancer in at least three areas: detection of frailty, treatment of unsuspected conditions, removal of social barrier to treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Geriatrics / methods*
  • Health Services for the Aged
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Patient Care Management*