Date: October 1st, 2005
Those who have been diagnosed with colon cancer will tell you that the support of friends and relatives is invaluable. A survey of over 100 oncologists shows that physicians agree, and that caregiver involvement can lead to better disease outcomes in elderly colon cancer patients.
The survey, commissed by the Alliance for Aging Research, was conducted as part of the program “Colon Cancer: Caring for the Aging,” that aims to increase awareness about the importance of caregiver involvement in disease management for elderly colon cancer patients. Miguel Ferror, actor from Crossing Jordan, was also involved in the “Caring for the Aging” program, joining forces with the Alliance in order to get the word out on the crucial roles that caregivers play.
Caregiver Involvement Makes a Difference
According to the results of the survey, performed by Harris Interactive, Inc., caregivers may ultimately have a major impact on patients’ disease management. Ninety percent of oncologists feel that the caregiver has a moderate to major impact on the decision-making process, and 77 percent feel that colon cancer patients 65 or over experience better disease outcomes with a caregiver’s involvement. About 80 percent of oncologists surveyed say that they depend on caregivers somewhat or a great deal to act as an intermediary between themselves and the patient.
Unfortunately, only 64 percent of colon cancer patients age 65 or older have the support of a caregiver, whether it be a friend, spouse, child, or other trusted individual. “Six out of ten colon cancer patients are 65 and older, and these patients have an increased need for caregiver support,” said Dr. Stuart Lichtman, associate attending at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. “Physicians should encourage patients to enlist a caregiver and involve them in the treatment decision-making process”
The Role of the Caregiver
More than half of oncologists who say that their colon cancer patients 65 and older have a more difficult time than younger patients managing their disease, agree that these patients are generally less proactive about researching available options. A caregiver can help ask the right questions and research treatment options. Caregivers also provide emotional support, participate in doctors’ visits and decision-making, and provide transportation to and from appointments.
“It is clear that caregivers are key to ensuring that colon cancer patients 65 and older receive the best care,” said Daniel Perry, executive director of the Alliance for Aging Research. “As managing colon cancer can be a complicated and confusing process especially for the aging population, a caregiver, whether a spouse, child, friend or neighbor, should be actively involved.”
Miguel Ferrer, who lost his father, José Ferrer, to colon cancer, is working with the Alliance to educate colon cancer patients and caregivers about the importance of active involvement in the treatment of the disease. “Although colon cancer took my father’s life, the involvement of the whole family helped ease my father’s decision-making process as he went down a difficult path,” Ferrer said. “I encourage all caregivers and family members to become actively involved and ask the right questions to ensure the best possible outcomes for their loved one.”
Asking the Right Questions
Oncologists say that caregivers often don’t ask the right questions about disease management. They suggest that the most important topics for patients and their caregivers to discuss when faced with a colon cancer diagnosis are treatment plans and options, prevention and management of treatment side effects, and patient prognosis.
Learn more about a survey conducted by the Alliance for Colon Cancer: Caring for the Aging.