Pharmacological factors influencing anticancer drug selection in the elderly
Persons over the age of 65 years are the fastest growing segment of the US population. In the next 30 years this segment will represent more than 20% of the population. Fifty percent of all cancers occur in this age group and therefore the total cancer burden is expected to rise. Data are becoming available that will better guide the use of chemotherapy in the older patient population. Studies are presented discussing pharmacokinetic data on a number of chemotherapeutic agents with an emphasis on those that have entered clinical practice over the past few years. Many of these agents seem to have a beneficial therapeutic index, particularly in regard to older patients. Aging can affect the pharmacokinetics of chemotherapy in a number of ways. Absorption is only modified minimally by age. The greater concern with the use of oral drugs is patient compliance. Volume of distribution is affected by changes in body composition, anaemia and decreased plasma albumin concentration. There are many drugs in which renal excretion plays an important role. Decline in glomerular filtration is a consistent phenomenon with aging. Drug metabolism is primarily affected by changes in the P450 system and coadministration of drugs which also interact with this important enzyme system. The selection of chemotherapy in the elderly is frequently determined by degree of comorbidity and the patients' functional status. These factors are critical and can often determine response and toxicity. This article discusses the changes that occur with antimetabolites, camptothecins, anthracyclines, taxanes, platinum compounds, epipodophyllotoxins and vinca alkaloids. There has also been an increasing trend toward the use of oral chemotherapy. Factors that must be considered in selecting chemotherapeutic agents include limitations of saturability of absorption, patient compliance and the pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic changes that occur in older patients. Interpatient variability and age-related changes in drug metabolism are discussed. Careful attention to the physiological changes with age and dose adjustments necessary for end-organ dysfunction (renal, hepatic) are needed to ensure the safe administration of chemotherapy. In this article specific diseases are discussed (breast, colon, ovarian and non-small lung cancers) with recommendations for drug selection in adjuvant chemotherapy and the treatment of metastatic disease. Future studies will need to incorporate these various factors to properly evaluate chemotherapy in older patients. Research and educational initiatives targeted to this population will need to be a priority.