Blood cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma, present unique challenges and considerations for older adults due to the intersection of aging-related factors and the complexities of cancer treatment. Here’s what you need to know about blood cancer and aging:

1. Increased Risk with Age

  • Prevalence: The incidence of most types of blood cancers increases with age, particularly after 60 years old. This is attributed to cumulative exposure to environmental factors, genetic mutations, and changes in the immune system over time.
  • Types: Certain blood cancers, such as chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and multiple myeloma, have a higher median age at diagnosis compared to acute leukemias.

2. Challenges in Diagnosis and Treatment

  • Delayed Diagnosis: Symptoms of blood cancers in older adults may be mistaken for other age-related conditions, leading to delayed diagnosis and treatment initiation.
  • Comorbidities: Older adults often have pre-existing health conditions (comorbidities) that complicate treatment decisions and may influence treatment tolerance and outcomes.

3. Biological and Physiological Changes

  • Immune Function: Age-related changes in immune function can affect the body’s ability to detect and combat cancer cells, potentially impacting the progression and response to treatment.
  • Bone Marrow Function: Aging can alter the bone marrow microenvironment, affecting hematopoietic stem cell function and the production of healthy blood cells.

4. Treatment Considerations

  • Tolerance to Therapy: Older adults may have reduced tolerance to intensive treatments like chemotherapy or stem cell transplantation due to frailty, decreased organ function, and lower reserves.
  • Personalized Approaches: Treatment plans often need to be individualized, taking into account overall health, functional status, and goals of care.

5. Supportive Care Needs

  • Management of Symptoms: Older adults may experience more pronounced symptoms and side effects from treatment, such as fatigue, infections, and cognitive changes.
  • Palliative Care: Integrated palliative care can play a crucial role in managing symptoms, improving quality of life, and providing support for both patients and caregivers.

6. Shared Decision-Making

  • Communication: Open communication between older adults, caregivers, and healthcare providers is essential for discussing treatment goals, expectations, and potential risks and benefits.
  • Advance Care Planning: Discussions about advance directives and preferences for end-of-life care should be initiated early in the treatment process.

7. Research and Clinical Trials

  • Representation in Research: Older adults are often underrepresented in clinical trials, limiting the evidence base for effective treatments in this population. Efforts to include older adults in research are crucial to improving outcomes and tailoring treatments.

8. Holistic Approaches

  • Multidisciplinary Care: Collaborative care involving oncologists, geriatricians, nurses, and supportive care specialists can optimize treatment strategies and address the comprehensive needs of older adults with blood cancers.
  • Wellness and Support Programs: Access to supportive services, including nutrition counseling, exercise programs, and psychosocial support, can enhance overall well-being and treatment outcomes.


Navigating blood cancer in the context of aging requires a nuanced approach that considers biological changes, treatment tolerance, and supportive care needs specific to older adults. By incorporating personalized treatment plans, supportive care interventions, and effective communication, healthcare teams can help older adults manage blood cancers while maintaining quality of life and dignity throughout their journey.



By Sue