How older adults can lower their cancer risk

The theme of World Cancer Day on February 4 is, “We can. I can.”

Nearly 90% of all new cancer cases occur in Canadians 50 and older, and about 60% of all cancer cases occur in those over 65, according to Statistics Canada and the Seniors and Cancer Screening project. Yet Canadian seniors are less likely to have a physician propose cancer screening and participate in screening than younger adults, says Seniors and Cancer Screening, a project led by University of Victoria and funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Collectively and as individuals, we can substantially reduce the global burden of cancer for seniors by promoting age-appropriate screening to detect cancer early and by taking steps to help prevent cancer through a healthy lifestyle.

Why get screened?

Screening saves lives. It helps detect cancer early, which means you can potentially benefit from more treatment options, less invasive treatment, an improved quality of life and a longer, healthier life. For family members, especially spouses and adult children, earlier detection also may reduce the duration and intensity of the caregiving needed for a spouse or parent living with cancer.

Lavender purple cancer (all kinds) awareness ribbon on human hand, aged wood background: Ribbon color symbolic concept raising public support campaign on people health living with diseaseScreening is especially important for people over 50 since the risk of cancer increases with age. Four common forms of cancer for which screening tests are available include: breast, cervical, colorectal and prostate cancer. Colorectal cancer provides a striking example of the potential benefits of screening. If the cancer is detected early enough, a simple treatment, such as polyp removal, can boost the odds of surviving by up to 90%, says Seniors and Cancer Screening.

Cancer screening recommendations are based not only on age but other risk factors, like family history. Talk to your doctor about what screening tests you should have (and when), and any family history of cancer. You can also learn more about the benefits and risks of screening for specific types of cancer, what the tests involve, and recommended guidelines from the Canadian Cancer Society.

Lowering your cancer risk

Although there is no magic bullet to prevent cancer, about one-third of all cancers can be prevented by eating well, being active and maintaining a healthy body weight, says the Canadian Cancer Society. Not smoking, being safe in the sun and limiting alcohol reduce cancer risk even further. After treatment, these healthy lifestyle measures can help cancer survivors recover faster, manage stress, improve quality of life and reduce the risk of developing a second cancer or other health problems.