About 130,000 people over the age of 75 currently get some form of the disease in the UK each year, but Cancer Research UK has predicted that it could soar to 234,000 by 2035 as a result of an ageing population.
With a significant gap in survival rates between Britain and the world’s best-performing countries when it comes to older cancer patients, the charity has called on the NHS to do more to ensure it is prepared for the major increase.
Head information nurse Martin Ledwick said: “When elderly people have a lot of health problems and are taking a range of different medications, it can affect what treatment they are able to receive.
“Some older people with cancer might not be fit enough to have surgery and go through lengthy periods of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but as no two patients are the same, there will be others who are.
“That’s why it’s so important staff are well trained and resourced so they can assess older people properly and ensure they receive the right treatment, care and support specific to their individual needs.”
Women who get breast cancer above the age 75 are far more likely to survive for longer in Europe than they are in the UK and Ireland, and survival rates for bowel cancer in the same age group are 15% lower here than in Canada.
The report suggested the rates were notably lower among older patients in the UK because they were more likely to be diagnosed with cancer at a more advanced stage, making it harder to treat.
Between 2006 and 2015, 41% of all cancers in those aged 80 to 84 were diagnosed in an emergency in England, compared with 14% of cancers in those aged between 50 and 59.
Rose Gray, Cancer Research UK’s policy manager, added: “If we do nothing, the disparity in care between older and younger cancer patients will only grow.
“It’s vital to address this if we want to realise our ambition of ensuring world-class treatment for everyone in the UK who is affected by cancer.”