Cancer disproportionately affects older adults. By 2030, it is estimated that 70% of new cancer diagnoses will occur in the geriatric population. Geriatric cancer patients often have multiple underlying comorbidities and impairments in their functional and cognitive status, and cancer treatment can add a heavy physical and emotional burden. Studies have shown a high level of unmet need for social support in elderly cancer patients, negatively impacting their ability to receive care and cope with their disease.

Case Discussion

We present a case of a 66-year-old black male with a history of hypertension who was diagnosed with metastatic thyroblastoma. Prior to diagnosis, he lived alone in an apartment and was independent in his daily activities. His wife had recently passed away and his children lived in another state. His initial hospitalization lasted over a month, during which he received his first round of chemotherapy and developed a recurrent malignant pleural effusion. Prior to discharge, the decision was made not to place an indwelling pleural catheter due to lack of social support. Transportation to post-hospital follow-up appointments became difficult due to his declining performance status. When he finally saw his primary care physician, he was found to be in hypertensive urgency because he was unsure how to take his antihypertensives. He was readmitted due to his worsening pleural effusion and progressive cancer, and he ultimately succumbed to his disease.


This case illustrates the unmet need for social support for older adults with cancer, which is an emerging issue as our population ages. This complex problem will require innovative solutions, and further research is needed to identify the best strategies to care for older patients with cancer. Promising work is emerging within the field of geriatric oncology, including implementing the comprehensive geriatric assessment to identify patients’ physical and social needs.