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Ageism in rectal carcinoma? Treatment and outcome variations.

BACKGROUND: Rectal cancer adjuvant and neo-adjuvant therapies are associated with improved survival and local control rates. Concerns regarding adverse treatment effects tend to reduce administration in the elderly-the very population this disease affects.

PURPOSE: To determine the extent to which age alters rectal cancer treatment and its outcome.

METHODS AND MATERIALS: Using the population based provincial cancer registry, patients with adenocarcinoma of the rectum diagnosed between 1991 and 1998 were identified. From this cohort, a random subsample of patients seen at the regional cancer center were selected for detailed analysis. Demographic and clinical data between the provincial cohort and the subsample were compared for homogeneity. Log rank tests and Kaplan-Meier survival estimates were carried out on the subsample.

RESULTS: The population cohort (n = 1979) and the subsample (n = 259) were similar in age, sex, and treatment distributions. Elderly patients (>/=75 yr) made up 23% of the rectal cancer population in Alberta. Age had a highly significant (p = 0.001) impact on whether patients received surgery alone or had surgery plus chemoradiotherapy. This corresponded to a considerable survival advantage for those elderly patients who did receive multimodality therapy (p = 0.008).

CONCLUSION: The advantage of multimodality therapy in rectal cancer is confirmed in this populationbased study. Although a significant number of elderly patients are fit enough to tolerate major surgery they are being denied adjuvant therapies, presumably on the basis of potentially high treatment-related complication rates, with a subsequent reduction in survival. Strategies must be developed to ensure that maximum treatment benefit is obtained without increased harm in the elderly rectal cancer patient.

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