The Basics of Cancer for Aging Adults

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We think it is an appropriate time to talk about cancer in aging adults.

breast cancer awarenessIt’s easy to say, “Yeah, I know what cancer is.” And most of us do—but we’d rather not think about it. That’s why we often ignore the signs or don’t take preventative measures. But, knowledge is power; so let’s talk about it.

What is Cancer?

In simple terms, cancer begins with cells in the body that become abnormal and make more cells, which in turn, become a growth or tumor that can hurt nearby tissue or organs as it becomes bigger. Cancer cells can also break away and spread to other parts of the body. That’s why finding it early is key to increasing the chances that a cancer treatment will work.

Cancer affects people of every age, but it is more likely in older adults. Luckily, our chances of surviving cancer are better than ever and that’s in part, due to growing awareness and positive lifestyle changes.

Start with Prevention

The best way to really avoid cancer is by taking good care of you. It comes down to three key things:

Even if you think you have these three aspects of your life dialed in, it doesn’t hurt to check in with the experts on a regular basis. Which leads to another important measure of prevention: screening. Regular screenings for cancer give you the chance to talk more about prevention and can also help catch it early—which means you have more tools to fight it.

Know the Signs

In elderly people, cancer can cause many different symptoms. Often, these symptoms may not be an indication of cancer, but it’s important to err on the side of caution and get them checked if they do occur.

  • A lump or thickening of tissue in any part of the body (especially in the breast—for both men and women!)
  • A change to a mole or a new mole
  • Sores that do not heal
  • A cough or hoarse voice that won’t go away
  • Changes in bladder or bowel patterns
  • Blood in the urine or stool
  • Discomfort after eating
  • Heartburn
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Unusual bleeding or discharge
  • Noticeable tiredness or extreme fatigue
  • Sustained bloating
  • Mouth changes—white or red patches on the lips or inside the mouth
  • Changes in lymph nodes
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • A lasting fever
  • Ongoing pain

Okay, after going through that list, you probably feel pretty ill at ease and maybe a little blue. That’s why it’s important to remind you that having one or more of these symptoms does NOT mean you have cancer. It just means you should go get checked out, because it’s better to be safe than sorry. Don’t wait until you feel pain because in the early stages, cancer usually isn’t painful. If you wait for it to become that way, you are not giving yourself the chance you deserve. And you deserve to be healthy.


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