Wilmot Cancer Center at Forefront of Geriatric Oncology Education, Research

May. 30, 2012
Supriya Mohile, M.D., M.S., heads large URMC presence at ASCO annual meeting
Geriatric oncologist Supriya Mohile, M.D., M.S., and Deborah Bacon, R.N., examine octogenarian James Barbato, who was diagnosed with stomach cancer.

As more than 34,000 oncologists from diverse locations throughout the U.S. and the world gather in Chicago for the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting later this week (June 1-5), they are increasingly faced with a common dilemma – how to care for the rapidly growing population of geriatric cancer patients. 

While much of the focus of cancer prevention centers on avoiding smoking, limiting exposure to the sun, and genetic and environmental influences, the fact remains that the single most important risk factor for cancer is age. As life expectancy in the U.S. continues to rise, cancer in older adults is becoming increasingly common. Recent data compiled by the American Cancer Society shows that 60 percent of all cancers are diagnosed in individuals over the age of 65. Additional data reveals that 70 percent of all cancer-related deaths occur in people 65 and older.

Yet, the practice of Geriatric Oncology is, ironically, in its relatively infant stages, and physicians and researchers at the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center have been pioneers and leaders in the quest to advance the treatment of older adults diagnosed with cancer.

Supriya Mohile, M.D., M.S., who directs the Wilmot Cancer Center Geriatric Oncology Clinic, one of just a handful of its kind in the country, is widely recognized as one of the top specialists in the field and serves as the Track Leader for ASCO’s Geriatric Cancer Education Committee. She is author or co-author of 12 abstracts that will be presented at the conference and will present her work at three education sessions: “Designing Clinical Trials for Older Patients: Regulatory, Community and Advocacy Perspectives”; “Treatment of Older Patients with Advanced Cancer: Balancing Efficacy with Toxicity”; and “Falls, Physical Performance Deficits and Function Losses in Cancer Survivors with Chemotherapy-induced Neuropathy: A University of Rochester CCOP Study.”

 “As people age, they naturally develop a variety of co-existing conditions that can make the treatment of an older cancer patient more complex,” Mohile said “But we’re seeing very healthy patients well into their 80s who are still working, traveling, playing golf, swimming, and suddenly they get cancer. How can you not consider treating that patient?”

Mohile and other geriatric oncologists are sharing a stark message. While more than 20% of Americans will be older than age 65 by 2030, managing their health needs and cancer treatments may be challenging as there are not yet standards of care for geriatric patients diagnosed with cancer. While there are some overlaps in the care models for oncology and geriatrics, the more collaborative approach that Mohile and other geriatric oncologists bring melds the fields and ultimately evaluates whether the benefits of therapy outweigh the risks given the underlying health status of the patient.

Accordingly, the interest in geriatric oncology presentations at ASCO has steadily increased. Mohile said that last year’s sessions drew standing room only crowds, compared to more sparsely attended sessions seven or eight years ago.

 “We are trying to educate the thought-leaders in oncology of the need for hard data to address the unique situation of older people with cancer,” Mohile said. “Oncologists are being challenged each day with an increasing number of cases that involve older adults. Historically, there hasn’t been a lot of training and research related to treating geriatric cancer patients, and oncologists recognize this as an important issue. They are looking for tools and training to help them treat the type of patient they are now seeing every day in their practice.”