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Caregiver Involvement Can Have Major Impact on Disease Outcomes for Colon Cancer Patients 65 and Older

Actor Miguel Ferrer and the Alliance for Aging Research join forces to educate about the important role of caregivers

Washington, D.C. – New research shows that colon cancer patients who are 65 and older may benefit from a caregivers involvement, and that caregivers may ultimately have a major impact on the patient’s disease management according to a survey of oncologists commissioned by the Alliance for Aging Research. Crossing Jordan star, Miguel Ferrer, who lost his father José Ferrer to colon cancer, is partnering with the Alliance for Aging Research to help educate colon cancer patients and caregivers about the importance of active involvement in the treatment of the disease.

“Six out of ten colon cancer patients are 65 and older, and these patients have an increased need for caregiver support,” said Stuart Lichtman, MD, associate attending at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. “Physicians should encourage patients to enlist a caregiver and involve them in the treatment decision-making process.”

The survey of oncologists highlights the critical impact of caregivers in ensuring optimal outcomes for colon cancer patients 65 and older and is part of the “Caring for the Aging” program to educate colon cancer patients and their caregivers about the critical role of a caregiver in managing the disease.

Patient Age and Disease Management
According to the survey, 70 percent of oncologists feel a patient’s age affects the recommendations they provide to patients to manage the disease a great deal or somewhat. However, oncologists feel that patients can handle aggressive treatment. In fact, 65 percent of oncologists strongly or somewhat disagree that colon cancer patients 65 and older are not capable of handling aggressive chemotherapy.

The patient and physician relationship is a two way street. More than half (56 percent) 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 towards their disease and available options. In addition, two out of five (41 percent) of these same oncologists strongly or somewhat agree that these patients do not ask the most relevant questions concerning their disease management. Oncologists agree that colon cancer patients 65 and older experienced better disease outcomes with a caregiver’s involvement due to increased communications (77 percent). As a result, 81 percent of oncologists say that they depend on caregivers somewhat or a great deal to be an intermediary between themselves and their patients ages 65 and older.

“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, 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.”

Caregiver Support and Involvement
Oncologists consider caregivers an ally and an important contributor in the management of a colon cancer patient 65 and older. In fact, 90 percent of oncologists feel that the caregiver has a major to moderate impact on the decision-making process related to the disease management of these patients. However, oncologists report that on average only about three out of five (64 percent) colon cancer patients 65 and older have the support of a caregiver.

Caregivers may have many responsibilities but oncologists observed that the primary role of a caregiver includes providing emotional support (94 percent), participating in doctor’s visits and in decisions about disease management options (89 percent), and transportation to and from doctor’s appointments (90 percent). More than eight out of ten (85 percent) oncologists have recommended to colon cancer patients 65 and older that they can benefit from having a caregiver involved.

“Although colon cancer took my father’s life, the everyday involvement of my stepmother helped ease the process of making decisions as he went down a difficult path,” said Miguel Ferrer. “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.”

Tips for Caregivers
According to oncologists, treatment options are among the key topics that caregivers and colon cancer patients should discuss with them to ensure the best outcomes for the disease. For a full list of tips for caregivers and patients and additional information about “Caring for the Aging”, log on to www.agingresearch.org. The “Caring for the Aging” program is sponsored by sanofi-aventis.

About Colon Cancer
Colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and will claim the lives of more than 56,000 people in the United States this year alone. The incidence of colon cancer is more than 50 times higher in people aged 60-79 than in those younger than 40, and more than 90 percent of cases occur in individuals 50 and older.

About the Survey
This survey was conducted online by Harris Interactive, Inc., for the Alliance for Aging Research from September 7-20, 2005 to explore the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of oncologists toward treatment for colon cancer patients 65 and older. In particular, the survey assessed the role of caregivers in patient care and decision making. The sample included 104 oncologists who were sampled and weighted to ensure for representativeness of the physician universe. With a probability sample of this size, one could say with 95 percent certainty that the results have a margin of error of plus or minus five percentage points.

Founded in 1986, the Alliance for Aging Research is a nonprofit, independent organization dedicated to improving the health and independence of aging Americans through public and private funding of medical research and geriatric education. The Alliance combines the interest of top scientists, public officials, business executives, and foundation leaders to promote a greater national investment in research and new technologies that will prepare our nation for the coming senior boom, and improve the quality of life for today’s older generation.