Elderly cancer patients at risk for adverse drug reactions, interactions

July 13, 2011

Polypharmacy is becoming a greater risk factor for elderly cancer patients, resulting in an increased risk of adverse drug reactions and drug interactions, according to a recent study published in The Lancet Oncology.

Polypharmacy is becoming a greater risk factor for elderly cancer patients, resulting in an increased risk of adverse drug reactions and drug interactions, according to a recent study published in The Lancet Oncology.

Researchers with the Royal Adelaide Hospital Cancer Centre in Adelaide, Australia, and the National University of Singapore and National Cancer Centre in Singapore found that polypharmacy is becoming more frequent in the elderly because an increasing number of drugs are being used to prevent medical problems in this population.

The researchers cited a U.K. study in which elderly cancer patients were taking an average of 7 different medications. A Canadian study also reported that nearly all newly diagnosed elderly patients were taking an average of 5 prescribed drugs even before the start of cancer treatment.

The researchers suggested several practical interventions to prevent adverse reactions from polypharmacy, including a geriatric multidisciplinary team to prescribe the best drugs, involvement of pharmacists to discuss patients’ medications, improved training in the unique needs of geriatric patients, and computerized drug-interaction alerts.

In addition, practitioners should obtain a comprehensive medication history from elderly cancer patients that includes questions about over-the-counter drugs and complementary/alternative medications, inspection of drug containers or lists, and contact with community pharmacies or family doctors, the researchers said.