Living with cancer blog

Older cancer survivors face unique challenges

By Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. March 27, 2012

As we age, our risk for developing cancer increases. Many cancer survivors are age 75 or older. Older adult cancer survivors face unique challenges.

Older cancer survivors may be at higher risk for changes in quality of life after a diagnosis of cancer and treatment, including memory and cognition problems, worsening of chronic illness (such as heart disease or diabetes), and lack of social support.

Older adults may also have fewer financial resources, which can lead to difficulties managing household expenses and making ends meet.

However, I have found that many cancer survivors in this age group have amazing resilience and strength. They are well grounded and draw their energy and power to move forward from previous life experiences. At times, a positive influence comes from close family connections and a network of friends and social support.

Positive steps related to this issue include awareness that cancer treatments may need to be modified to meet the needs of older cancer patients (taking into consideration any chronic illnesses).

Also, clinical trials for new treatments need to include adults over the age of 75, so that the safety and side effects can be better understood in this age group.

Look for assistance from Navigator programs, mentors and other peer support resources such as the American Cancer Society ( or 1-800-227-2345), CancerCare ( or 1-800-813-4673) and Eldercare Locator ( or 1-800-677-1116).

What have you experienced? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic.


Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.

March 27, 2012