Cancer is the result of uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells anywhere in the body and is one of the most common diseases in the United States. As the population ages, we will see cancer become even more dominant, and eventually replace heart disease as the leading cause of death in the United States. More than one-third of all cancers occur in adults over the age of 75. Adults over the age of 65 make up 60 percent of new cancer diagnoses, and 70 percent of all cancer deaths.

Symptoms of Cancer

An individual’s risk of cancer increases greatly with age, but if the individual can understand and recognize the causes, risk factors, and symptoms of the disease early on, their likelihood of survival is much greater. So, here is a list of symptoms of common cancers in the elderly:

Lung Cancer

  • Pain in the chest
  • A chronic cough, or worsening cough
  • Wheezing
  • Being unable to catch one’s breath
  • Bone pain

Colon Cancer

  • Constant pain in the abdomen
  • Blood in stool
  • Severe weight loss
  • Constipation
  • Regular diarrhea

Stomach Cancer

  • Weight loss or loss of appetitive
  • Blood in stool
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Jaundice

Breast Cancer

  • Lump in breast tissue or underarm area
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Breast swelling
  • Nipple discharge
  • Redness or thickening of breast skin

Prostate Cancer

  • Blood in urine
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Pain in lower body (hips, lower back, etc.)
  • Problems urinating
  • Urinating too often

Understand that cancer needs to be diagnosed by your doctor, but if you notice some of the following signs, you may want to consult your primary care physician for advice.

What are the Causes of Cancer?

Depending on the type of cancer, there are many different causes and risk factors. When you know how to reduce your risk factors, you can reduce your chance of developing cancer. Here are some of the causes of the most common cancers in the elderly:

Lung Cancer

  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Smoking a pipe/cigars
  • Being environmentally exposed to tobacco smoke
  • Long-term exposure to asbestos fibers
  • Genetic/familial predisposition

Colon Cancer

  • Age
  • Diet with too much meat
  • Diet with too many processed foods
  • Type 2 diabetes or Crohn’s disease
  • Genetic/familial predisposition

Stomach Cancer

  • Genetics/family history
  • Smoking tobacco
  • Eating too much meat
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Diet high in processed or salty foods

Breast Cancer

  • Genetics/family history
  • High levels of estrogen
  • Obesity
  • High alcohol intake

Prostate Cancer

  • Male, over the age of 50
  • African-American descent
  • Diets high in meat or dairy
  • Genetics/family history

Diagnosing Cancer

The methods that doctors use to diagnose cancer will depend on what type of cancer you have. However, typically the doctor will use some sort of imaging testing to get a better look at the body, and they will also take some tissue samples to look at under a microscope.

Once cancer has been confirmed, it will be diagnosed in one of four stages. These stages describe how much cancer has spread throughout the body with stage one being the most contained, and stage four meaning cancer has spread throughout the body.

When you are diagnosed with cancer, you will want to explore all of your treatment options to make sure you are making the best decisions for your health. You may even want to consider getting a second opinion after a cancer diagnosis.

Cancer Treatments

Cancer is most prevalent in older adults, but commonly, older patients are undertreated and not likely to receive the same standard of care as younger adult patients. Some refer to this as cancer ageism. This can result in seniors getting less treatment than another adult with the same condition. However, when it comes to treating cancer, age is just a number. Your treatment options should be dependent upon your entire health condition, and not just because you are a senior.

Some of the most common cancer treatments include:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a GI cancer?

Gastrointestinal cancer is a broad term used to encompass all cancers of the gastrointestinal tract (digestive system). This includes cancers of the esophagus, stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, bowel, and other areas.

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What are some of the signs of cancer?

The signs and symptoms of cancer differ depending on the what type and how severe the cancer is. For example, with lung cancers, you will find pain in the chest, chronic cough, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. However, colon cancer has a different set of symptoms including constant abdomen pain, blood in stool, constipation, and regular diarrhea.

If you believe you are experiencing symptoms of any type of cancer seek help from a doctor immediately.

See All Answers »

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