What is Geriatric Oncology?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Geriatric oncologists use interviews to determine if a patient's family has a history of cancer.
Geriatric oncologists use interviews to determine if a patient's family has a history of cancer.

Geriatric oncology is a medical specialty focusing on cancer care in older adults. Age tends to complicate disease, and there may be some special considerations in evaluating and treating older cancer patients. Practitioners in this field have training in both oncology and gerontology, and can be doctors, nurses, or medical technicians. Some work for hospitals and clinics as part of a larger cancer care program while others may offer services through a geriatric oncology practice.

Geriatric oncologists specialize in treating cancer in older adults.
Geriatric oncologists specialize in treating cancer in older adults.

As people age, their chances of getting cancer increase. They are also more likely to have comorbidities, as many diseases become more common with age. Older adults can also experience social isolation, limited mobility, difficulty completing tasks, and similar issues that may make cancer treatment harder. Memory problems can be an issue for geriatric patients, a particular concern with harsh cancer medications, where missing or doubling up on doses could be very dangerous.

Geriatric oncologists need specialized empathy and listening skills when interacting with patients and their caregivers.
Geriatric oncologists need specialized empathy and listening skills when interacting with patients and their caregivers.

In geriatric oncology, care providers evaluate patients, collecting information about their cancers as well as any other health conditions. They use this information to develop a care plan. One consideration is that the treatment could be too much for the patient to bear. It may be more sensible to take a conservative treatment approach to give the patient a better quality of life. Geriatric oncologists may also determine that the cancer is slow growing and will not kill the patient before other diseases do, making it pointless to subject her to invasive and aggressive cancer treatments.

A geriatric oncologist must be familiar with legal topics such as advance directives, which specify how a patient would like to be treated in the event of incapacitation.
A geriatric oncologist must be familiar with legal topics such as advance directives, which specify how a patient would like to be treated in the event of incapacitation.

Practitioners in geriatric oncology may need to consider hospitalizing their patients for care if there are concerns about taking medications on time, self-care abilities, or missing appointments because of transportation problems. They can also recommend the use of aides and home health care providers to assist patients who remain at home. The work can include working on a more effective plan for managing the patient's comorbidities while treating the cancer. Geriatric oncology specialists do not want to treat a cancer only to have a patient experience complications from another condition.

Research opportunities are available in geriatric oncology. These include trials for new drugs and treatment protocols as well as studies on the psychological well-being of patients. Researchers may also study common comorbidities to learn how they interact with each other. This can help with the development of treatment recommendations to increase the chances of effective cancer treatment. Patients who want to participate in research can talk to their doctors about options and get more information from clinical trial organizers.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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    • Geriatric oncologists use interviews to determine if a patient's family has a history of cancer.
      Geriatric oncologists use interviews to determine if a patient's family has a history of cancer.
    • Geriatric oncologists specialize in treating cancer in older adults.
      Geriatric oncologists specialize in treating cancer in older adults.
    • Geriatric oncologists need specialized empathy and listening skills when interacting with patients and their caregivers.
      Geriatric oncologists need specialized empathy and listening skills when interacting with patients and their caregivers.
    • A geriatric oncologist must be familiar with legal topics such as advance directives, which specify how a patient would like to be treated in the event of incapacitation.
      A geriatric oncologist must be familiar with legal topics such as advance directives, which specify how a patient would like to be treated in the event of incapacitation.