Better oncological care for elderly patients
Maryska Janssen-Heijnen, a clinical epidemiologist at VieCuri Medical Centre, is conducting research on how to provide the best possible care for elderly cancer patients that offers the highest survival rates and the highest quality of life. On Friday 23 June, Janssen-Heijnen was appointed professor of Clinical Epidemiology with a specialisation in Geriatric Oncology at Maastricht University.
There is a great deal of uncertainty about whether the oncological treatment described in the guidelines is the best possible treatment for elderly patients. 'Treatment guidelines are almost always tested in younger, healthier patients,' says Maryska Janssen-Heijnen. 'This despite the fact that older patients often suffer from one or more serious chronic conditions in addition to cancer. They also have lower functional reserves. The prescribed treatment may prove too taxing for some elderly patients, while other, healthier patients may be undertreated for fear of complications, despite being able to physically endure a stronger treatment.'
Quality of life
Through their research, Janssen-Heijnen and her colleagues hope to gain a better understanding of the patient characteristics that help to determine whether a patient is at risk of developing severe side effects of a certain treatment or whether they can tolerate and benefit from that treatment. This knowledge can make it easier to pinpoint the right therapy and strike the right balance between life extending measures and quality of life. The professor also hopes to determine whether lifestyle changes can improve a patient's health, thereby also improving the way they respond to cancer treatment. She expects to see faster recovery times, lower mortality rates and improved health and overall quality of life. An important element is to motivate patients to maintain their new lifestyles and to focus on providing good follow-up care. This calls for close collaboration between general practitioners and geriatric medicine specialists.
Maryska Janssen-Heijnen has worked as a clinical epidemiologist at VieCuri Medical Centre since 2010. After graduating with a doctorate in Medicine and Life Sciences, she obtained her master's degree in Clinical Epidemiology. As a clinical epidemiologist, she carried out several research studies at the Netherlands' Comprehensive Cancer Centre. In 2013 she was awarded an honorary appointment from the Department of Epidemiology at Maastricht University. In 2017 she was appointed professor of Clinical Epidemiology with a specialisation in Geriatric Oncology at the School for Oncology and Developmental Biology (GROW).
Maryska Janssen-Heijnen delivered her inaugural speech on Friday 23 June at 16.30 in the Maastricht University auditorium at Minderbroedersberg 4–6 in Maastricht.