Cancer in the elderly

Cancer is a chronic disease that increases in frequency along with one’s age. The older you get, the higher the risk of getting cancer. In general, it is calculated that approximately 60% of cancer cases occur in people 65 and older. On the other hand, life expectancy increased significantly in the 20th century and will continue to increase in the 21st century. In the 19th century, average life expectancy was 40 years, while in the 21st it is 80 years. In addition, we are experiencing an enormous increase in world population.

If we put all these data together, we find that cancer is becoming an important health problem for the demographic sector of those aged 65 and over. Generally speaking, people are not aware of this problem. Many of those we’ve asked about this think that cancer is something that affects younger people, but that isn’t so. Here we insist that cancer consistently increases in frequency as age increases. Breast, prostate and colon cancer– in all of these we can observe this phenomenon.

We must also keep in mind that given current life expectancy, people have many years of margin to adapt healthy practices that can reduce the risk of cancer, or, in the case that a cancer does arise, to receive early diagnosis, thus within a period of curability.


The truth is that very little is known about what causes cancer. And it’s difficult to prevent a problem if we don’t know what causes it. We do know about the risks of tobacco, which is the leading cause of lung, throat, mouth and bladder cancer. The other known causes don’t have the same statistical strength as tobacco, but it is nevertheless important to be aware of the other secondary causes because they increase the risk of getting cancer. The European Union has released a set of recommendations known as the European Code Against Cancer. Our Foundation, FEFOC, has revised them, creating a similar code (which follows below) exclusively for Seniors:

  1. Don’t smoke– to avoid various types of cancer, to not bother those who live with us, to enjoy our respiratory capacity to the fullest, as well as to set a good example for grandchildren.
  2. Watch your weight– because people with obesity have a higher risk of cancer. For the same reason it’s important to do daily physical exercise, always within your personal limits.
  3. Watch what you eat– use the Mediterranean diet, which includes little animal fat, as a model.
  4. Avoid binge drinking.
  5. Take necessary precautions when sunbathing. Avoid the midday sun.


A second important matter is early diagnosis, which can take on two forms: diagnosis of cancer even before showing symptoms, and clinical diagnosis following the detection of symptoms but early enough to treat because the cancer hasn’t spread.

With regards to the first topic, or specifically, early diagnosis, these are the following recommendations:

  1. Women over 65 should have a mammogram test done every two or three years.
  2. Women over 65 should also have periodic gynaecological check-ups.
  3. Both sexes should have tests done on their intestines, especially those who have a family history of colon cancer.
  4. It’s recommended that men have a PSA analysis done, which allows for the early diagnosis of prostate cancer.

Finally, a word about a few signs of cancer. Cancer is a disease that involves the multiplication of cells which in turn forms a lump or tumour. If a person finds a new lump that they didn’t have before, it’s better not to take chances. If the lump is benign (for example, from an infection), it will disappear within a month. This is why, as a general rule, you should go to the doctor’s if you have a lump that hasn’t gone away after a month.

Watch out for other changes. Some older women can have a vaginal haemorrhage. Sometimes family members joke about it and say “granny’s become young again”. But be careful, because a third of these cases are the result of uterus cancer. Also keep an eye on moles if their appearance changes (if they become bigger, lose their shape, bleed or change colour). If this happens, visit your doctor because it could be skin cancer forming on top of your mole. Watch for changes in bathroom habits (for example, a person who used to go to the toilet every day who suddenly has constipation). Tell your doctor because you might be due for an intestinal exam.

Besides the recommendations regarding prevention and early diagnosis, in conclusion it should be said that cancer is a curable disease if diagnosed in time and for this reason you should be on a constant look-out for symptoms. Any alteration you might have could be cancer if it hasn’t been specifically diagnosed.



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