May 31, 2013 | by Hiu Chung So
Although cancer is generally a disease associated with old age, studies have shown that older patients are often underrepresented in cancer clinical trials. As such, there is often a lack of data on proper treatment dosage and schedules for this group.
Arti Hurria, M.D., director of the Cancer and Aging Research Program at City of Hope, has made it her life’s work to close this gap of knowledge for older patients. This includes advocating for the inclusion of more patients 65 and older in clinical trials and conducting studies to investigate the unique needs and risks of this group. Hurria’s ongoing research in this field has not gone by unnoticed. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has selected her to be this year’s recipient of the B.J. Kennedy Award and Lecture for Scientific Excellence in Geriatric Oncology.
As part of the award, Hurria was invited to deliver a lecture on the issue during ASCO’s annual meeting in Chicago.
“I am incredibly humbled to receive this award,” said Hurria, adding that the honor was in recognition of her recent studies to develop a treatment tolerance model for older patients.
“Our research has focused on factors – other than age – that can predict which older adults will be at a higher risk for chemotoxicity.” In a published study involving 500 patients 65 or older, Hurria and her team found 11 factors that were linked to a risk of adverse treatment effects. Some factors seemed obvious such as renal function affecting a patient’s ability to metabolize medicine. But others were less so, such as a lack of participation in social activities and hearing problems. The disengagement can indicate underlying physical and cognitive issues, and hearing problems can affect patients' ability to properly adhere to a treatment regimen.
Moving forward, Hurria hopes to further validate these findings with a larger study, fine tune the model for specific cancers and develop a clinical surveying tool for patients or their caregivers to use. This will allow clinicians to better understand a patient’s tolerance and risk profile, and thus adjust their treatment regimens accordingly.
“Aging is a very heterogeneous process and age [alone] should not be the benchmark on whether to treat a patient,” Hurria said. “Making that decision involves understanding who the individual is and what the risk factors are.”