Every year, World Cancer Day, an initiative led by the Union for International Cancer Control, is about taking action. The theme, “I Am and I Will,” charges us as a cancer community to rally together and better serve those living with the disease and their support systems. At Pfizer, one way we’ve been supporting the community is by helping to eliminate barriers to optimal care, particularly for those over the age of 65, who research has shown may not always receive the best care available.1,2,3
To better support the needs of these older people living with the disease and their caregivers, we conducted a global survey to help us understand their unique experiences and provide a more complete picture of the opportunities to reduce barriers to care.
Our survey examined 556 people 65 and older who have cancer, are in remission or are considered cured, and 714 caregivers, who care for loved ones ages 65 and older living with cancer. Respondents were from the U.S., UK, Germany, Spain, Mexico, Chile, and Colombia.4 The results uncovered insights on people living with cancer’s desire for a chance at remission, as well as both people living with cancers’ and caregivers’ depth of discussions with healthcare providers and the impact of the COVID-19 impact on their care, among other points.
Older people living with cancer want remission
Some of the top insights we uncovered from the survey suggest that older people living with cancer desire a treatment plan that offers the chance for remission (a decrease in or disappearance of signs and symptoms of cancer).5
- Remission is a top priority for both older people living with cancer and their caregivers. 61% of older people and 54% of caregivers report that having the best chance at remission is one of their top priorities in choosing a treatment course. This goal is prioritized over extending life as long as possible, with or without cancer, (45% older people, 54% caregivers) and minimizing side effects (41% older people, 49% caregivers).6
- Older people living with cancer feel they are strong enough to handle treatment, but the survey revealed they may not be getting all the information they need to make informed decisions. Of those surveyed, 62% strongly agree and 34% somewhat agree they feel strong enough to handle cancer treatment. 65% strongly agree and 31% somewhat agree that they want to pursue treatments that can directly address their cancer. Yet only 16% report that their doctor asked them about their personal treatment goals, and only 17% recall receiving a geriatric assessment—a valuable tool that helps healthcare professionals determine the best treatment options based on a patient’s age and overall health.7,8
Additionally, only about a quarter of respondents said they were provided with tools and resources to help them make treatment decisions.9 Over the last year, Pfizer has been making strides to address these lack of resources – for example, our educational offerings on the This Is Living With Cancer website and our partnership with the Association of Community Cancer Centers to create self-assessment tools for physicians, which help them identify areas for improvement in the care of older populations.
But these are just first steps. There is still a huge opportunity to improve physician-patient discussions around treatment options and goals for older people living with cancer.
The impact of COVID-19 on patients and caregivers
For patients and caregivers alike, our survey revealed, the COVID-19 pandemic is yet another hurdle for older people living with cancer to overcome and one that amplifies the issues they already face. In fact, 73% of caregivers surveyed said that the pandemic has made caregiving even more difficult. More than half (58%) said the pandemic has had a negative impact on their loved one’s care, likely at least partly related to canceled or postponed appointments, which were reported by a quarter of older people in active treatment.10
These caregiver reports are significant because their support is highly valued: more than 60% of surveyed patients said emotional support and companionship is what they value most from their caregiver, followed by transportation, housekeeping, and preparing meals. By comparison, managing medical needs (17%) and advising on medical and care decisions (15%) ranked far lower.11
Recognizing the special needs of caregivers, we have resources that offer tips to help caregivers of older people living with cancer, including how to better understand their loved one’s mental health. But clearly, this survey underscores additional areas for improvement.
The bottom line is that the need to do more to address the needs of older people living with cancer and their caregivers remains, and it is even more urgent during the time of COVID-19. That’s why Pfizer has been working with cancer, aging, and caregiving groups, as well as others, focused on underserved communities, to tackle the barriers standing in the way of optimal care for these individuals.
But this is just the beginning. We will continue to share more findings from our survey as we dive deeper into feedback, particularly differences in experiences by age and location, and we are fully committed to addressing the challenges and inequities that older people with cancer and their caregivers face in 2021 and beyond. Through education, support, and understanding, we are proud to take part in World Cancer Day and continue to support the global community in making a difference in the lives of people living with cancer.