OneFlorida+ citizen scientist Shirley Bloodworth participated in a conference on cancer and aging hosted by the UF Health Cancer Center (UFHCC) earlier this year, offering her perspectives following presentations by a panel of national experts from the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute.
Bloodworth also contributed to a journal article that summarized the insights and observations shared at the conference. The article, “Cancer and Aging: A Call to Action,” was published in the July 2022 issue of Aging and Cancer.
In February 2022, UFHCC conference organizers invited four leading scientists from the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute to share their insights on cancer and aging at the inaugural UFHCC Cancer and Aging Symposium. The panelists’ research spanned multiple disciplines, including basic science, translational research, geriatric oncology, and population science. Each speaker offered their unique perspective and insight on the intersection between cancer and aging and discussed their current and ongoing research in this field.
Cancer risk increases with age, and as the number of people ages 65 and older grows in the United States and other developed countries, so does the need for research to improve our understanding of the unique challenges faced by older adults diagnosed with cancer, according to Dejana Braithwaite, Ph.D., MSc, Associate Director for Population Sciences at the UF Health Cancer Center and lead author of the article.
The authors pointed out that only about 24% of participants in government-funded clinical trials are aged 70 or older, and less than 10% of patients in this age group are enrolled in National Cancer Institute-sponsored clinical trials.
“This poses a clinical and public health conundrum as we must extrapolate data on cancer therapeutics from clinical trials conducted in younger and healthier patients to their older counterparts,” Braithwaite and her colleagues wrote in the article. “More research is needed to examine the unique challenges faced by older adults, such as the impact of age-related deficits and declines in physical and cognitive functioning, and the impact of biological age on treatment tolerance and health outcomes.”
After the scientific presentations at the symposium, Bloodworth and three members of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) shared their perspectives on strategies to move the field forward.
Among the themes that emerged during their discussion was a need for researchers to focus more on enhancing meaning and quality of life in older cancer survivors. The participants also agreed on the importance of including citizen scientists in the design and implementation of interventions for older individuals facing a cancer diagnosis.
“As a citizen scientist, I was honored to have the opportunity to share my perspectives about what the experience is like to have had cancer and also to be an elderly person,” Bloodworth said. “It’s presenting the personal side, as a recipient of all the work these scientists are engaging in, that hopefully will influence the design of future studies.”
While ongoing research on cancer and aging will have a global impact, Bloodworth pointed out that the work has personal significance for her, as well. “This is very important for my aging friends and relatives,” she said.
Braithwaite shared her appreciation for Bloodworth’s contributions to the symposium and the journal article in an email: “I am thankful for our fabulous Citizen Scientist Program, including Ms. Bloodworth, for leaning in so well as we further strengthen collaborations with the cancer center’s community outreach and engagement office. I look forward to expanding these collaborations as we accelerate our goal to reduce disparities among older populations with cancer.”
The citizen scientist program at the University of Florida is offered through the UF Clinical and Translational Science Institute. Citizen scientists are members of the community who bring their own life experiences to the research process, engaging with researchers to improve the quality of health care. For more information, visit the UF CTSI Citizen Scientist Program.