Skip to main content

In the United States, the geriatric population accounts for over half of all newly diagnosed cancers. As the US population ages, the number of people 65 and over being diagnosed with cancer will only increase. Because of this, oncology and geriatric medicine have a natural cross-pollination. In the years to come, this will become even more true.

On November 19, 2021, the UNC Lineberger Cancer Network explored this crossover between geriatrics and oncology. This year’s day-long event Geriatric Oncology Research Symposium focused on Cancer and Aging. Due to issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the symposium took place entirely online.

Led by Drs. Jan Busby-Whitehead, MD, Hy Muss, MD, and Kirsten Nyrop, PhD. the symposium featured 20 speakers. Several of these speakers are faculty and researchers from both the Center for Aging and Health and the Division of Geriatric Medicine.

Presenters from the Center for Aging and Health

Dr. Jan Busby-Whitehead (UNC School of Medicine Professor and Chief, Division of Geriatric Medicine; Director, Center for Aging and Health) opened the day with a welcome and offered an introduction to the Division of Geriatrics’ clinical initiatives. She then reviewed the Center for Aging and Health’s research initiatives.

Screenshot of Dr. Jan Busby-Whitehead welcoming participants to this year's Geriatric Oncology Research Symposium.
Dr. Jan Busby-Whitehead reviewing the SOM’s Geriatric and Training Programs

Throughout the day, symposium attendees heard research updates on various topics related to both oncology and geriatrics from all types of investigators – faculty, fellows, medical students, and internal medicine residents.

Some specific topics included treatment adherence and side effects, body composition, disparities, as well as research from fellows and residents. One major item for discussion was p16INKA4a, the ‘biomarker of aging’ and a tumor suppressor protein.

The Symposium also featured Dr. Margaret Drickamer (Professor, Geriatrics, UNC School of Medicine). Dr. Drickamer introduced the UNC-Geriatric Oncology T32 Fellows and moderated the ensuing discussion.

In addition to opening and closing the symposium, Dr. Busby-Whitehead moderated a session which called Care of Older Patients with Cancer. The session featured current UNC School of Medicine student Caroline Buse, BA. Buse gave a presentation entitled Transitioning Care: Perspectives of Older Women with Early Breast Cancer on Current Telemedicine Modalities.

The symposium also featured Shakira Grant, MD (Assistant Professor, Hematology & Geriatrics, UNC School of Medicine). In her session entitled Social Determinants of Health Research, Dr. Grant discussed social factors, physical function, and the older adult with hematological cancer. In addition to being a board-certified geriatrician, hematologist, and oncologist, Dr. Grant is also a clinician-investigator.

The Importance of Collaboration

With the US population continuing to age, the collaboration between oncology and geriatric medicine is important. This year’s Geriatric Oncology Research Symposium drives home the need for the two disciplines to continue their partnership, at UNC and around the nation.

The Annual Geriatric Oncology Program Symposium is presented by the UNC School of Medicine and funded by the Lineberger University Cancer Research Fund.