Drugs & Aging

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 1–11 | Cite as

Novel Cancer Therapeutics in Geriatrics: What is Unique to the Aging Patient?

  • Zeina Al-MansourEmail author
  • Linda Pang
  • Venu Bathini
Leading Article


With the worldwide trend of aging populations, the number of older adults who develop and survive cancer is likely to increase. In the last decade, oncology drug development has shifted away from conventional chemotherapeutics towards agents that can ‘target’ a driver mutation of a specific cancer or ‘unleash’ the patient’s native immune system to attack the cancer—so-called molecularly targeted therapies and immunotherapeutics. The basic algorithms of cancer treatment in elderly patients are essentially the same as in younger patients; however, one needs to pay exceptional attention to the effects of co-morbidities, interaction with other drugs, and the organ function reserve of an older individual before determining his/her ‘eligibility’ for a specific cancer treatment modality. Despite the growing evidence of safety and effectiveness of combination chemotherapy in fit elderly patients, the data are still lacking concerning the use of currently approved targeted agents and immunotherapies. The current evidence, though limited, suggests reasonable tolerability with comparable efficacy in patients > 65 years old treated with immune-based therapies to that in younger controls; however, it is unclear if this leads to significant patient-relevant gains such as improved survival with an acceptable quality of life. Nonetheless, these newer agents remain better tolerated than cytotoxic chemotherapy in clinical practice, particularly in older patients. Alternatively, a personalized approach for elderly patients with consideration of the incidence and management of adverse effects, as well as strategies for optimizing efficacy in the context of an aging immune system, would be of utmost value in our aging cancer population. Future trials should also explore immune markers to predict response to these therapeutics in elderly patients, taking into consideration the effects of immunosenescence and immune modulation in aging hosts.


Compliance with Ethical Standards


No external funding was used in the preparation of this article.

Conflict of interest

Zeina Al-Mansour, Linda Pang, and Venu Bathini declare that they have no conflicts of interest that might be relevant to the contents of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Hematology/OncologyUniversity of Massachusetts School of MedicineWorcesterUSA
  2. 2.University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer CenterHoustonUSA
  3. 3.University of Massachusetts School of MedicineWorcesterUSA

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