Stark differences in the number of young and old patients having surgery for cancer have been revealed in a new report by Cancer Research UK and Public Health England’s National Cancer Intelligence Network.

Younger cancer patients were more likely to have surgery for 19 cancer types, with the largest differences between age groups seen in kidney and ovarian cancers, findings show, lending further weight to suggestions of potential age bias facing older patients.

It was found that surgery was performed on 73% of all kidney cancer patients aged between 15 and 54, but this dropped dramatically to 36% those aged between 75 and 84 and to just 11% of those over 85. For ovarian cancer, around 80% of women under 55 had surgery, but this plummeted to 37% of those aged 75-84 and to 15% of over 85s.

Surgery rates for the three biggest cancer killers - lung, bowel and breast - were all found to follow a similar pattern, and yet experts believe surgery is responsible for around half of cases where cancer is cured, CR UK notes, indicating a potential missed opportunity. While many factors might be at play “these statistics paint a worrying picture”, it said.

Nick Ormiston-Smith, the charity’s head of statistics, said previous research has suggested that some older patients who are eligible for surgery may be overlooked because of their age.

"We need to understand what is driving this difference. Earlier diagnosis is incredibly important and something we’re pushing for as it will mean more patients will be suitable for surgery and other treatments. But if older patients are not being offered a surgical option, that is wrong,” he stressed.

Painting a similar picture, earlier this year research by Macmillan Cancer Support in partnership with Monitor Deloitte and the NCIN found that older lung cancer patients in the UK are five times less likely to be given potentially life-saving surgery than younger patients.