A study reveals tens of thousands of elderly patients with cancer can survive at least 10 years if they are given treatment.
Some patients with cancer are being denied treatment because they are too old, according to charity Macmillan Cancer Support.
Elderly patients are being “written off” for treatment after being assessed on age rather than fitness, claimed the charity.
The claim comes despite research showing tens of thousands of pensioners have survived the disease for 10 years or more.
“It’s wrong to write off older people as too old for treatment,” said Macmillan chief executive Ciaran Devane.
“With a proper assessment and appropriate treatment, our research shows that many older cancer patients can live for a long time and can even be cured.
“While it’s good news that so many older people are benefiting from treatment, many thousands more could live longer if our survival rates for over-65s matched those in comparable countries.
“The barriers to getting treatment – which include age discrimination and inadequate assessment methods – must be tackled now so older people can survive cancer and live for many years.”
For cancers such as prostate, breast, lung, stomach, ovary and kidney, the UK and Ireland have a lower five-year survival rate than the rest of Europe, a spokesman said.
At least 130,000 patients in the UK have survived for at least 10 years after being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 65 or above, including more than 8,000 patients diagnosed at age 80 or over.
Dr Mark Porter, chairman of council at the British Medical Association, said: “It is important that all healthcare professionals ensure that patients are treated on the basis of their clinical need.
“With an increasingly ageing population, it should be a key part of medical professionalism to guarantee that older patients are treated with the care and respect they deserve.”
Sean Duffy, national clinical director for cancer at NHS England, said: “We need to deliver better services for people over 65 and 75 because we know there’s an issue and interventions need to be designed to that end.”
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