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Jul 10, 2012 5:01 PM

Doctors report cancer treatment for elderly is tricky

(NBC) - Finding the right cancer treatment can be tricky, especially for elderly patients who often have other age-related medical problems.

Despite this, it's possible older cancer patients can be treated successfully, even aggressively.

83-year-old Ellsworth Scott made it through surgery and chemotherapy for colon cancer and is now considered cancer free.

Mr. Scott's oncologist, Dr. Nadine McCleary, takes a multi-faceted approach in treating her elderly patients, carefully accounting for any other medical problems they may have that could impact their care including kidney disease, high blood pressure or other medications.

Her queries don't stop there.

"Considerations regarding their social support, do they have access to transportation? Finances also become an issue," she explains.

Mr. Scott's issues included gout and trouble breathing.

"It's not just my interpretation of how a patient is going to do, it's also the nutritionist who may weigh in and notice something. It may be the nurse that's treating them on a day-to-day basis," Dr. McCleary says.

Many of the cancer treatments that Dr. McCleary and her colleagues at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston recommend for their elderly patients are based on studies of younger people.

She's begun a research project focusing on the specific needs of older patients, including whether they can tolerate or even need all of the chemo drugs normally used.

Neither age nor cancer has stopped Mr. Scott for long.

He's looking forward to getting back to work and on with the rest of his life.

Two-thirds of cancer patients are over age 65.

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