Cancer physicians' attitude towards treatment of the elderly cancer patient in a developed Asian country

BMC Geriatr. 2013 Apr 16:13:35. doi: 10.1186/1471-2318-13-35.


Background: With an aging population and an increasing number of elderly patients with cancer, it is essential for us to understand how cancer physicians approach the management and treatment of elderly cancer patients as well as their methods of cancer diagnosis disclosure to older versus younger patients in Singapore, where routine geriatric oncology service is not available.

Methods: 57 cancer physicians who are currently practicing in Singapore participated in a written questionnaire survey on attitudes towards management of the elderly cancer patient, which included 2 hypothetical clinical scenarios on treatment choices for a fit elderly patient versus that for a younger patient.

Results: The participants comprised of 68% medical oncologists, 18% radiation oncologists, and 14% haematologists. Most physicians (53%) listed performance status (PS) as the top single factor affecting their treatment decision, followed by cancer type (23%) and patient's decision (11%). The top 5 factors were PS (95%), co-morbidities (75%), cancer stage (75%), cancer type (75%), patient's decision (53%), and age (51%). 72% of physicians were less likely to treat a fit but older patient aggressively; 53% and 79% opted for less intensive treatments for older patients in two clinical scenarios of lymphoma and early breast cancer, respectively. 37% of physicians acknowledged that elderly cancer patients were generally under-treated.Only 9% of physicians chose to disclose cancer diagnosis directly to the older patient compared to 61% of physicians to a younger patient, citing family preference as the main reason. Most participants (61%) have never engaged a geriatrician's help in treatment decisions, although the majority (90%) would welcome the introduction of a geriatric oncology programme.

Conclusions: Advanced patient age has a significant impact on the cancer physician's treatment decision-making process in Singapore. Many physicians still accede to family members' request and practice non-disclosure of cancer diagnosis to geriatric patients, which may pose as a hurdle to making an informed decision regarding management for the geriatric cancer patients. Having a formal geriatric oncology programme in Singapore could potentially help to optimize the management of geriatric oncology patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel / ethnology*
  • Developed Countries
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / ethnology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Registries
  • Singapore / ethnology
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult