May 5, 2014 9:28 am

Expensive cancer drugs should favour young patients, says top doctor

Elderly patients with cancer should be denied expensive treatment drugs in favour of younger patients, said one of Britain's leading doctors.

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TORONTO – Elderly patients with cancer should be denied expensive treatment drugs in favour of younger patients, according to one of Britain’s leading doctors.

The comments made by Dr. Karol Sikora sparked outrage among cancer charities after the former head of the cancer program at the World Health Organization said the age of those with cancer “should be taken into account” when decided who should be treated.

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“You can’t have a rigid cut-off but one has to be realistic – three months of life extension for someone in their 90s has got to be less useful than for someone in their 30s or 40s,” said Sikora. “It’s getting a sense of proportion.”

The 65-year-old, who also runs a private cancer firm Cancer Partners UK, said there are not enough resources “to offer everything that’s available to all patients in need of treatment.”

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“We simply can’t do everything for everybody,” he said Sunday.

Sikora said the National Health Service (NHS), a publicly funded health service, is under increasing financial pressure and that at least 25 drugs available under an NHS plan can cost more than £50,000—roughly $92,500 (CAD) annually. He said that if given the choice between a patient who is elderly and a patient who is “in their prime”  doctors should prioritize younger patients as many of the drugs would only prolong life for a few months.

“Do we really expect that people in their eighties with multiple insoluble health problems should have the same technology brought to bear on their cancer as those in their prime?” he said.

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Sikor’s comments came after the  National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), a non-departmental public body of the Department of Health in the U.K., said it is conducting a review in order “to determine whether age should be taken into account when deciding whether to prescribe a drug on the NHS.”

Several UK charities spoke out against Sikora’s comments.

“My view is that age should be taken into account when comparing the potential benefits of expensive treatments,” said Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support in an interview with The Daily Mail: “To deny older cancer patients treatment based on their age alone is unacceptable discrimination.”

“We have a duty to treat people as individuals and assess them based on their fitness for treatment, not date of birth.”

Charity director Caroline Abrahams of Age UK said decisions about who should be treated should be based purely on clinical need, not age.

“Anything else is blatant age discrimination,” said Abrahams.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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