Living Well: A Program to Benefit Older Cancer Patients
Cancer can affect anyone, but cancer can also be survived by anyone, both young and old. Cancer survival stories involving the experiences and struggles of young adults often overshadow the reality that cancer does not only affect the younger population. In fact, sixty to seventy percent of patients with cancer and cancer survivors are age 65 or older, and technological advances have greatly increased the cancer survival rates of older patients.
To ensure a high quality of life during and after cancer treatments, the Joan Karnell Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital has created a new program, Living Well: A Program for Older Adults, to meet the specific needs of patients 65 and older.
“This is how geriatric medicine should be practiced,” explains Dr. David Mintzer, Chief of Hematology - Oncology at Pennsylvania Hospital, who helped to develop the program. “You can't just treat the cancer, you have to treat the whole person.”
Another member of the program development team, Helen Grosky, MSS, LSW, a Cancer Center social worker, recognizes the challenges older patients face.
“Older patients tend to have a smaller network of friends to serve as a support system,” said Grosky. “Also, they tend to minimize their health problems as just a natural part of growing older.” Living Well helps older patients to better use the Cancer Center's support services, and focuses specifically on improving their experience with cancer. Grosky adds that the program can also be a resource for families and caregivers.
“Today many families are caring for older relatives. Living Well can help families with issues such as insurance or arranging transportation to appointments.”
The program continues the Cancer Center's commitment to supportive care with a team that works to ease the challenges of cancer, coupled with aging issues, by addressing each patient's physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs.
Sarah Kagan, RN, PhD, an internationally recognized expert on geriatric oncology, served as a consultant during development of the program. Dr. Kagan is an associate professor of gerontological nursing at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and was named a 2004 MacArthur Foundation Fellow for her work in helping improve the health care for older patients with cancer. She knows firsthand that cancer isn't only about caring for younger people.
“If we can succeed in changing this mindset, we can do so much more for older adults,” said Dr. Kagan.
The Living Well program is available to patients with cancer who are 65 and older. Information for patients and their loved ones is available through your doctor or nurse.
Living Well begins with a comprehensive screening process, including a formal geriatric assessment, to better identify a patient's specific needs and, therefore, the best available treatment options. A plan is designed to meet the individual needs of each patient, and various members of the program's support team help to implement each plan.
Living Well's support team includes:
- Oncology doctors and nurses who are experts in pain and symptom management
- Patient's primary care physician
- Board-certified geriatrician
- Social worker
“Living Well is a pioneer program, because it provides comprehensive attention to the unique needs of older cancer patients as well as optimal support to ensure that they can live life to the fullest,” said Dr. Kagan.