Cancer and Aging
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By Coral Lei
About Cancer and Aging - Since I came to the White House, I got two hearing aids, a colon operation, skin cancer, a prostate operation, and I was shot. The damn thing is I've never felt better in my life.” ~Ronald Reagan
The Intriguing Connection
Relationship Between Cancer and Aging?
The relationship between cancer and aging has intrigued scientists for decades. It has long been widely accepted that the single greatest risk factor for developing cancer is aging, e.g., cancer is considered a disease of aging.
Aging is not a disease per se, but it is often closely associated with diseases, including cancer. This is because the aging process often inevitably contributes to the decline in performance, gradual inability in the adaptation to the environmental changes, and lower compensatory function. It changes a healthy young adult into an older, potentially less healthy person, with an increased risk of illness, injury, and death.
However, new and mounting evidence on animal studies have suggested that perhaps the complex and multifaceted link between cancer and aging should be re-evaluated. One groundbreaking study published in Nature in early 2002 indicated that a critical protein that protects animals from cancer in their early years appeared to cause much of the deterioration associated with aging in later life. It raised the shocking possibility that aging may be a side effect of the natural safeguards that protect us from cancer, suggesting that some of the natural and healthy mechanisms by which the body protects itself from cancer and other diseases in our youth may be implicated in cancer development as we age.
Possible Contributing Factors
It is indisputable that cancer incidence in the human population increases in an almost geometric fashion with age. According to the US National Cancer Institute (NCI), the number of new cancer cases is about 10 times greater for people 65 years and older. In reality, people from any age group can develop cancer. However, elderly, especially people over 40 are more likely to develop cancer. Cancers of the prostate, breast, colon, pancreas, bladder, stomach, lung, and rectum are the most common cancers occurring in people over 65.
It is not very clear scientifically why more older people tend to develop cancers than their younger counterparts. There have been some possible factors that might contribute to it.
- There is a latent period of time before the cancer is developed. It could be 10 or 20, even 30 years after one was exposed to the carcinogens (cancer causing agents). For example, if you smoke a cigarette today, you will not get the cancer next week or next month. But if you have been smoking cigarette for years, you might develop cancer in later life. Smoking is one example of the direct link between cancer and aging and probably the most important thing you can do to prolong your life expectancy is to
And as can be seen from the following illustration, smoking also impacts on the way you look.
- As one ages, especially when over 40 years old, the body’s immune function weakens and consequently the immune surveillance function for abnormality, including abnormal cell growth gradually decreases, which would help the cancer develop and grow.
- The older you get, the more chances you are exposed to various carcinogens, e.g., prolonged period of smoking cigarettes, or job-related hazards.
- Among elderly people, cancers, such as lung, stomach, prostate, large intestine, cervix etc, may have originated from pre-existing various chronic inflammations of these organs.
So can anything be done to prevent cancer development? Though it is inevitable that various functions of the body gradually weaken in the process of aging, there are many things that can be done to avoid cancer development. There are many good habits you can develop which will have enormous impact on your overall health as well as preventing not only senior cancer, but a range of other age-related diseases.
The secret is to start as early as possible and to practice these lifestyle changes as regularly as possible.
Lifestyle Changes You Can Make
A healthy lifestyle plays an important role in preventing cancer development. A healthy lifestyle includes:
- Not smoking or avoiding exposure to smoke
- limiting alcohol intake
- exercising regularly to enhance immunity
- practising sun safety
- eating healthily – less fat and more fruits and vegetables
- having safe sex
- getting adequate rest
- coping well with stress, and
- having a positive attitude
Moreover, knowing personal and family medical history, being aware of the working environment, actively seeking treatment for existing chronic diseases, and having regular screens for cancer can all help prevent cancer development or promote early treatment.
The one positive thing about cancer and aging is that cancer cells proliferate less quickly in an older patient, so senior cancer tends to progress at a much slower rate than cancer in younger people.
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