Our Goal to Give Everyone with Cancer the Best Possible Chance to Grow Older

The world’s population is aging more quickly than ever before. By 2050, the number of people over 60 is expected to double.1 People with cancer are also growing older. Approximately 37% of new cancer cases around the world are diagnosed in people older than 70,2 and this number is predicted to more than double by 2040.3 This staggering trend will place a significant burden on individuals, families, communities and healthcare systems worldwide.4

Our When Cancer Grows Old™ initiative addresses the challenges of cancer and aging. We collaborate with the global cancer community, including advocates and healthcare providers around the world, to give people with cancer the best possible chance to grow older.

Seeking to Tackle the Challenges of Cancer and Aging
Meet Dale Eastman, Breast Cancer Survivor and Patient Advocate
Meet Naomi Sakurai, Breast Cancer Survivor and Patient Advocate
Meet Bernard Delcour, Living with Multiple Myeloma
Meet Shlomit Norman, Living with Multiple Myeloma and Patient Advocate
Meet Dr. Cary Adams, Chief Executive Officer, Union for International Cancer Control (UICC)
Etienne Brain
Meet Dr. Etienne Brain, International Society of Geriatric Oncology (SIOG) and Dr. Matti Aapro, UICC

    Older people with cancer and their families often face:
  • Inconsistent treatment and prevention guidance,4,5,6
  • Additional health problems that require customized care,4,7  and
  • Lack of access to relevant information, resources and post-treatment support.7,8,9

Driving solutions

In 2020, we began working on customized solutions for people with cancer throughout all stages of the disease.

This means collaborating with our partners around the world to inspire advocates and healthcare providers to identify solutions for people with cancer and their families, and working with the cancer community at the global, regional and local levels to ensure that existing programs and policies continue to improve.

  • Peter Adamson, Global Head of Oncology Development and Pediatric Innovation, shares his perspective on the need to improve outcomes for those living with cancer here.
  • Dietmar Berger, Chief Medical Officer and Global Head of Development, shares his perspective on our efforts to make a meaningful impact on older patients and their families. To read his Q&A with STAT News, click here.

A global response to cancer and aging

As part of a multiyear collaboration, we have joined forces with the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) and the European Cancer Organisation to raise awareness, advance understanding and inform discussions on age-inclusive cancer programs. We supported the UICC’s virtual Aging and Cancer series in the context of an aging world and against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Caring for older cancer patients during COVID-19
  • Long View Dialogue on Reshaping cancer control for ageing societies.

  • And as a member of European Cancer Organisation’s Community 365 Roundtable on Inequalities, we led a discussion on Treating Aging Patients with Cancer. The Action Report developed from the roundtable, It Can Be Done: Beating Inequalities in Cancer Care, can be found here and was launched at the 2020 European Cancer Summit.

    Where innovation and healthcare meet

    In 2020, we engaged with more than 700 “hackers” worldwide, to tackle some of healthcare’s biggest challenges at the virtual Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Hacking Medicine Grand Hack.

  • Taking action: We sponsored two hackathon tracks, one focused on cancer and one on aging, to generate innovative ideas that could plug gaps in care for people living with cancer.
  • Generating ideas: Within 48 hours, more than 40 teams participated in our sponsored challenges, sharing unique solutions to customize cancer care and to help us think differently. The winning idea for the “Customized Cancer Care” challenge focused on the treatment of brain tumors, envisioning a technological solution to store a patient’s medical records, CT scans and genetic profile that would then match an appropriate treatment to the individual person.

  • To learn more about MIT Hacking Medicine’s Grand Hack, click here.

    Developing customized solutions worldwide

    As part of our commitment to the global cancer community, we developed a small grants program in 2020, offering funding opportunities to local, regional and global organizations dedicated to finding solutions for the unique challenges of cancer and aging.

    The recipients of this year’s Contributions Initiative provided funding to over 40 local organizations, medical institutions and healthcare facilities in countries around the world.

    Stay tuned for more updates on the efforts of these organizations around the world.

    Defining policy gaps

    We commissioned The Economist Intelligence Unit to identify policy gaps around cancer and aging and quantify the scope of pressing needs. The report, Cancer and Aging: Policy Responses to Meeting the Needs of Older People, explores existing policy framework, drawing on experience and findings from key experts across Europe, Japan and the US. The report provides key considerations for societies to better respond to the unique needs of older people during their cancer journey, including:

    Click here to learn more.

    The time for change is now

    The challenges faced by older people with cancer will only escalate if societies do not have the will or the ways to address these gaps in how patients experience care. Now is the time to bring together the best thinking and resources from around the world to create a ripple effect of change and action. We are trying to do just that with our platforms such as When Cancer Grows OldTM to unite efforts, elevate voices and encourage dialogue.

    Breast cancer is often portrayed through stories of survivorship and glossy imagery. For people living with metastatic breast cancer (MBC), which means the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, the realities of the disease are difficult, uncomfortable to discuss and distinct from early-stage breast cancer. The physical, emotional and socioeconomic realities of living with MBC can often be overlooked, under-represented and need to be addressed. MBC Unfiltered was developed to authentically elevate voices of the community through unfiltered moments and to provide resources focused on quality of life for the community, by the community.


    1 United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2017). World Population Ageing 2017 - Highlights (ST/ESA/SER.A/397).
    2 Globocan. Global Cancer Observatory Cancer Tomorrow. World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer Website. 2018. http://gco.iarc.fr/tomorrow/graphic-isotype?type=0&population=900&mode=population&sex=0&cancer=39&age_group=65%2B&apc_male=0&apc_female=0. Accessed on 26 Nov, 2019.
    Globocan. Global Cancer Observatory Cancer Tomorrow. World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer Website. 2018. http://gco.iarc.fr/tomorrow/graphic-line?type=0&population=900&mode=population&sex=0&cancer=39&age_group=65%2B&apc_male=0&apc_female=0. Accessed on 26 Nov, 2019.
    Pilleron, S., Sarfati, D., JanssenHeijnen, M., Vignat, J , Ferlay, J., Bray, F. and Soerjomataram, I. (2019), Global cancer incidence in older adults, 2012 and 2035: A populationbased study. Int J Cancer, 144: 49-58. doi:10.1002/ijc.31664.
    Bareket, R., Schonberg, M. A., Comaneshter, D., Schonmann, Y., Shani, M., Cohen, A. and Vinker, S. (2017), Cancer Screening of Older Adults in Israel According to Life Expectancy: Cross Sectional Study. J Am Geriatr Soc, 65: 2539-2544. doi:10.1111/jgs.15035
    Ebell, M.H., Thai, T.N. and Royalty, K.J. (2018), Cancer screening recommendations: an international comparison of high income countries. Public Health Rev, 39(7). doi:10.1186/s40985-018-0080-0
    Cope, D.G. (2006), An Evidence-Based Approach to the Treatment and Care of the Older Adult With Cancer. Chapter 1: Cancer and the Aging Population. https://www.ons.org/sites/default/files/publication_pdfs/Evidence%20Based%20Practice_Older_Adult_CHAPTER_1.pdf
    Baitar, A., Buntinx, F., De, T., Deckx, L., Bulens, P., Wildiers, H. and Van, M. (2017), The utilization of formal and informal home care by older patients with cancer: a Belgian cohort study with two control groups. BMC Health Services Research, 17(1): 644. doi:10.1186/s12913-017-2594-4
    Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Psychosocial Services to Cancer Patients/Families in a Community Setting; Adler NE, Page AEK, editors. Cancer Care for the Whole Patient: Meeting Psychosocial Health Needs. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2008. 1, The Psychosocial Needs of Cancer Patients. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK4011/.