World Cancer Day: Caring for older cancer patients

Press release posted 1 February 2023

World Cancer Day takes place on Saturday 4 February 2023. The Christie is a world-leading cancer centre and colleagues come from all over the world to work here. We’re proud to serve a diverse patient population from across the North West and beyond.

Dr Fabio Gomes is one of our consultant medical oncologists and the director of our new senior adult oncology service. Originally from Portugal, he came to The Christie in 2016. For World Cancer Day, he shares why he chose The Christie and how the senior adult oncology service is helping to meet patient need.

Fabio Gomes
Photo caption: Fabio Gomes

I first became interested in senior adult oncology care early on in my career. I was facing a difficult situation where many patients at my clinic were much older and had more complex needs than the average patient on a clinical trial.

Since much of our decision-making in oncology comes from clinical trials, I started questioning the evidence available to treat these older patients and wanted to do more to ensure they were given the best care and quality of life possible.

That meant getting some specialised training in that field, but there were only a handful of services in the world providing that type of care. So, in 2015, I went to Florida and trained at the senior adult oncology unit at the Moffitt Cancer Centre.

What I learnt there both changed the direction of my career and brought me to The Christie. I became very aware of the risk of undertreating some older patients based on their age, but also of the overtreatment of some older patients who do not seem frail but are at a very high risk of complications. The Christie gave me a supportive environment with opportunities to nurture my interest in this field and develop much-needed research and innovation.

I initially joined the Trust as an international fellow. As part of this, I developed and oversaw the first immunotherapy study dedicated to older people with cancer. From there, I then worked with NHS England to implement frailty assessments at cancer centres across the country. One thing led to another and I’m now also a board member of the International Society of Geriatric Oncology (SIOG).

A new senior adult service for The Christie

All this work led to the foundation of The Christie’s senior adult oncology unit, which is now 6 months old and continues to be developed. We’re one of very few cancer centres around the world offering this type of care.

The unit is a multidisciplinary, patient-centred service and we work closely with the parent oncology teams. We identify patients that would benefit from the support of the service, help shape treatment decision-making and make sure that high-risk older patients get specialist support during treatment. Although the service has been designed for outpatients over 70, with complex frailty, who are being considered for or already undergoing treatment, some younger patients may also benefit, and support is offered as needed.

I am really proud to work at a hospital that supported me and other colleagues to make this service a reality. I’ve got a brilliant team of medics, nurses and allied health professionals around me who are just as passionate about it as I am. They do a brilliant job for our patients.

Last updated: April 2023