Arti Hurria: Cancer is a disease of aging

June 30, 2013 | by

Arti Hurria, M.D., director of the Cancer and Aging Research Program at City of Hope, feels strongly that too little attention has been paid to the needs of older people with cancer. She's working to change that.

She recently presented an overview of her work – and the context for it – at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), where she was honored as the 2013 recipient of the B.J. Kennedy Award for her contributions to the research, diagnosis and treatment of cancer in the elderly. Here, we offer the first in a five-part series on the most important aspects of Hurria's work – and what doctors and others need to know about treatment of the elderly.

cancer and elderly

Cancer is a disease of aging, says City of Hope physician and researcher Arti Hurria. Further, the number of older cancer patients is on the rise.

Part 1: A look at the numbers

Cancer can strike people of all ages, but it is a disease often associated with aging, and the number of older adults with cancer is on the rise.

More than 1.6 million people are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in the United States this year, and about 60 percent of that group will be people who are 65 and older. That percentage is expected to increase 67 percent over the next 20 years as the baby boom generation ages. In comparison, the number of people younger than 65 is expected to increase 11 percent in that time period.

The U.S. faces a significant knowledge gap about the connection between cancer and aging, according to Richard J. Hodes, M.D., director of the National Institute on Aging.

"We need research that tells us why cancer is more prominent in older people, whether cancer behaves differently in the young and the old, and whether the treatment should be different for the different age groups," Hodes has said.

Further, the number of people age 65 and older is expected to double from 35 million to 70 million by 2030.

Such numbers fuel both Hurria’s ongoing research and her advocacy for studies and research to investigate the unique needs and risks of this group.

"This is a disease that primarily affects individuals who are over the age of 65," Hurria said. "By 2030, our largest shift in growth is going to be in the 80-plus population, a group where we really have had very limited data in best practices."

Further, a majority of cancer deaths (69 percent) occur in people 65 years and older. This is the population, Hurria said, on which she and other researchers are focusing.

Next: Part 2: The future of the oncology workforce