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News Release

   PO 360
   Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

   For Release:
   May 20, 2002


Clifton R. Lacy, M.D.

For Further Information Contact:
Laura Otterbourg or Marilyn Riley
(609) 984-7160

Department Releases Report on Cancer in Older Adults

TRENTON - More than half of all cancers occur in New Jersey's older adults. With the rapid growth of the 65-and-over age group, older-adult cancer is quickly becoming a critical issue for public health, research, and the medical community, Health and Senior Services Commissioner Clifton R. Lacy, M.D. said today.

By the year 2030, more than 20 percent of the nation's population will be 65 or older, compared with 12 percent today. In New Jersey today, there are 1.1 million older adults or about 13 percent of the population, according to the report, Cancer Among Older Adults in New Jersey: 1994 - 1998, released by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services.

"Older-adult cancer presents special challenges. The elderly often have other illnesses that make cancer management difficult. They may have inadequate access to health care because of financial, transportation and other problems," Dr. Lacy said. "They may not undergo the screening tests that are so vital to early diagnosis and better outcome."

"Governor McGreevey has proposed $37 million in his budget for the fight against cancer and $30 million for tobacco control. This funding is vital to the effort both to prevent cancer and to develop better treatments and patient care for those diagnosed with these diseases," the Commissioner added.

According to the report released today, 64 percent of men in New Jersey and 58 percent of women newly diagnosed with cancer are age 65 or older.

Incidence and mortality rates vary by age, gender, race and type of cancer. However, overall incidence rates are higher for older men - especially those over 75 -- than for older women. This is due mainly to older men's higher incidence of prostate cancer and younger women's (under 65) slightly higher incidence of breast cancer.

The report also analyzes cancer trends by three older-adult age groups - the "young old" ages 65 to 74, the "older old" ages 75 to 84 and the "oldest old" age 85 and older.

Historically, total cancer incidence and mortality rates have risen in each successive age group. In recent years, incidence rates for the over-85 group have converged toward the rates of the 75-to-84 age group for both men and women. Declining prostate and colorectal cancer rates may explain this trend among the oldest men, and declining uterine and colorectal cancer rates may be responsible for the trend in women.

"Cancer screening tests are critically important. That is a message that we need to communicate to older adults and their health care providers," Dr. Lacy said.

Despite the availability of screening tests, only a third of older adults diagnosed with colon cancer are diagnosed in the earliest stages of the disease, the report notes. Data from the report also show the need for increasing cervical cancer screening, since too few women are being diagnosed at the earliest stages of the disease. Women age 85 and older also have the smallest share of their breast cancers diagnosed at an early stage.

In the area of skin cancer, on the other hand, more than 70 percent of melanomas - the most aggressive and dangerous form of skin cancer - are diagnosed at an early stage, although that percentage drops among women with advancing age.

The Department's Cancer Education and Early Detection Program offers breast, cervical, colorectal and prostate cancer screening, outreach and education. The program targets racial and ethnic minorities, low-income persons and those who are uninsured or underinsured. Screening and follow-up testing are offered in the state's 21 counties.

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Department of Health and Senior Services
P. O. Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

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