"People at ages 65 and older are at the highest risk for cancer and tend to be the most neglected when it comes to cancer care," said Ronald Herberman, M.D., principal investigator of the project and director of UPCI. "They face many physical and social challenges that younger people do not, and often have additional health problems that can make cancer more difficult to treat safely and effectively. Our program will address these challenges by performing laboratory and clinical research studies on the effects of aging on cancer development and progression; developing ways to characterize the nature, severity and likely effects of other health problems on cancer treatment and the ability to cope with cancer; and by developing appropriate interventions to ease the burden of cancer in this population."
According to the NCI, the need for research on cancer and aging has never been more urgent as the number of individuals ages 65 and older is expected to jump from 23 million in 2003 to 70 million by 2030. People who are 65 years of age and older have a cancer incidence rate 10 times greater than the rate for younger people and a mortality rate 16 times greater. This issue is of particular relevance in Allegheny County and western Pennsylvania, where the proportion of elderly residents is especially high.
"One of our major goals for this award is to better understand the needs and concerns of older adults with cancer," said Stephanie Studenski, M.D., M.P.H., professor of geriatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and co-principal investigator of the project. "We look forward to listening and learning from older adults, their families and primary care physicians."
The project at the University of Pittsburgh will focus on clinical trials to test treatment efficacy and tolerance in older cancer patients, behavioral and social issues faced by the elderly and the biology of aging. The goals of the project are to develop and implement methods to reduce barriers to care; to perform research studies to better understand the immunobiology of cancer in elderly patients; to develop and test methods to address co-morbidity (the occurrence of two or more medical conditions at the same time) in older patients; and to test promising medical, behavioral and social interventions.
UPCI is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in western Pennsylvania, serving the region's population of more than 6 million. UPCI is a recognized leader in providing innovative biomedical research into the cause and course of cancer.
The division of geriatric medicine at the University of Pittsburgh is one of the largest and considered one of the best academic geriatric divisions in the United States. It has one of the nation's largest groups of fellowship-trained and board-certified geriatricians and has developed an extensive community- and clinic-based care network throughout the western Pennsylvania region. In 2001 the division was designated a national Center of Excellence in Geriatric Medicine by the John A. Hartford Foundation, placing it within a select group of centers around the United States. The Institute on Aging's initiatives include enhancing clinical and basic research on issues related to aging, translating this information into better models of care for the elderly and determining new methods to train health care professionals in caring for the elderly.