As Australia’s population ages we find more Australians diagnosed each year with bowel cancer in their later years. 

We recently decided to evaluate the outcomes of surgery for bowel cancer in patients aged 90 years or greater at the time of their diagnosis. It’s not at all uncommon now for people, when they reach the age of their late 80s or 90s to be essentially written off as too old or too frail for active management of their medical or surgical problem. And this is particularly so in patients who potentially might be facing a major operation. Anecdotally we felt that many of our patients in their ninth and tenth decade where in fact doing very well with surgical management of bowel cancer. 

This project was completed by Dr Raymond Yap, the colorectal fellow at Cabrini Hospital in 2015 assisted by Karen Oliva, Dr Simon Wilkins and A/Prof Paul McMurrick.

In a six-year period the database measuring outcomes of patients from both Cabrini Hospital and the Alfred Hospital contained information of a total of 48 patients over the age of ninety who underwent surgery for bowel cancer. Despite these patients being at the extreme of old age and often having a significant number of additional medical problems prior to their surgery we were able to ascertain that the risk of death in the 30-days after surgery was only 2.1%.

This means of course that 49 out of 50 patients over the age of ninety who undergo surgery will still be alive one month after the day of their surgery. Six months after their surgery, more than 90% of patients were still alive and more than 80% of all of these patients were able to return home after their surgery completed.

To highlight how important this result can be to the Australian community, A/Prof Paul McMurrick decided to interview former patient Jean Gamon. Jean is an extraordinary Australian. Prior to losing her husband more than twenty years ago she spent much of life travelling through the Victorian high country and the Australian outback, and even since being widowed she has continued to travel on a regular basis.

Four years ago at the age of ninety Jean was diagnosed with a large bowel cancer, and underwent surgery. Four years later she’s fit, well and even went camping in the Snowy Mountains having driven herself there only six months ago at the age of 94.