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Homing in on the Real Needs of Cancer Patients

Published: Saturday, Mar 24, 2018

Dr. Hyman Muss from Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center

Hyman Muss, MD
"When you watch a tv show in the United States about cancer, the patients are always young or middle-aged. In reality, the average age of a person with a cancer diagnosis in this country is around 66 or 67, and the majority of people who die of cancer in the United States do so after age 65, so cancer is a disease of aging,” Hyman B Muss, MD, a 2017 Giants of Cancer Care® award winner and a pioneer in the treatment of older patients with cancer, said in an interview with OncLive.

There is nothing particularly “sexy” about geriatric oncology, but this is where the action is, said Muss. There’s much to be learned from older patients: They could have comorbidities, they may be frail, and they may be taking many medications for a variety of ailments, not all of which are related to cancer. These issues may be complex, but they make oncology interesting and challenging, he said.

The Influence of a Mentor

Muss’s first introduction to the field of geriatric medicine was as a faculty member at Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina, where he was under the mentorship of William Hazzard, MD, then-chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at Wake Forest and a foremost expert in geriatric medicine in the United States. Hazzard is currently a professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at the Sticht Center on Aging at Wake Forest. He encouraged Muss to study outcomes in breast cancer among older women treated with chemotherapy. The result of that inquiry was a manuscript that so impressed the editors of The Journal of the American Medical Association that they accepted it without revision. “This shocked me,” Muss said.
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