Geriatric Oncology Training Will Improve Care for Elderly

Fellowship Program Meets Growing Need for Specialty Care

May 09, 2003

It’s a simple fact – if you live past 65, you’re probably going to get cancer. And as the baby boomer generation grows older, the daunting task of caring for them looms large for the medical community.

Preparing for the inevitable increase in cancer diagnoses, the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center is training oncologists to specialize in geriatric care. A new Geriatric Oncology Fellowship will combine geriatrics and oncology training to help improve the quality of care offered to older patients with cancer.

"The population is aging and cancer afflicts more people when they are older, so it’s logical to expect that the number of cancer patients is going to increase," said Deepak Sahasrabudhe, M.D., director of the Geriatric Oncology Fellowship Program. "We need to prepare now to provide the best care possible for this growing segment of our population."

The Wilmot Cancer Center received a $150,000 grant from the American Society of Clinical Oncology to develop and implement the three-year training program. In July, two physicians will join the integrated program, offered in conjunction with Monroe Community Hospital, a teaching nursing home for adults with chronic illness.

Upon completion, these oncologists will be uniquely qualified to care for the geriatric population. This is a segment of our patient population that needs additional support, says Sahasrabudhe, associate professor of oncology.

"Older adults with cancer often have other medical problems that impact their overall health. We have to be mindful of it as we care for them," Sahasrabudhe said. "Some cancers behave differently in older people and we have to change treatments accordingly."

The creation of the fellowship program is part of a national effort to train more geriatricians and specialists to care for this growing segment of the population.

Recent statistics released by the National Cancer Institute indicate that over the next 50 years, the number of Americans diagnosed with cancer will double, from 1.3 million this year to 2.6 million, and that most people will live longer with the disease than ever before.

"Those figures are staggering, but not unexpected," Sahasrabudhe said. "We know that there’s a lot of work ahead of us. I am convinced that training young physicians in geriatrics and oncology now will help us care for the older cancer patients in the years to come."

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