Common Cancers in Elderly: Causes and Symptoms

Mar 30, 2016

Common Cancers in Elderly: Causes and Symptoms

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Along with all of the amazing things age brings with it, such as retirement, grandchildren and more, it also comes along with a variety of health-related issues. Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid some of the health complications that coincide with growing old, but there are ways to limit them.

Common Cancers in Elderly: Causes and Symptoms

An individual’s risk of cancer, for example, 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 the five most common forms of cancers in seniors and their risk factors and symptoms.

Lung Cancer

Simply put, lung cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the lungs. These cells form masses, or tumors, and affect the function of the lungs, causing serious and painful symptoms. If lung cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, the survival rate is more than 50 percent. Unfortunately, it’s rare that lung cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, which is why it is extremely important for seniors to understand the causes and symptoms of the disease.

Causes and Risk Factors

While smoking cigarettes are still the main cause of lung cancer, there are many other causes of the disease. Here are a few of the most likely causes of lung cancer:

  • Smoking a Pipe/Cigars
  • Being environmentally exposed to tobacco smoke
  • Long-term exposure to Asbestos fibers
  • Genetics/Familial Predisposition


Many seniors began smoking long before society understood the health risks of smoking tobacco, and unfortunately, decades of smoking cannot be revoked. Although understanding and recognizing the early symptoms of lung cancer can help individuals get the treatment they need in a timely manner. Here are some of the lung cancer symptoms to watch out for.

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

The most important thing to understand is that like many cancers, lung cancer may show no symptoms at all. While this is uncommon, it’s crucial that seniors know the risk factors of cancer, and get themselves screened regularly.

Colon Cancer

Colon cancer is the formation of abnormal cells in the colon or rectum. It is especially important for seniors to understand the causes and symptoms of colon cancer because more than 90 percent of individuals diagnosed with the disease are over the age of 50. The survival rate of individuals diagnosed with colon cancer varies depending on the severity, but there is over a 90 percent five-year survival rate if it is caught in stage 1.

Causes and Risk Factors

The causes and risk factors are not completely known, but there has been evidence that suggest these things increase the chance that an individual is diagnosed with colon cancer:

  • Age – Colon cancer is more common in people over 50
  • Diet that contains too much meat
  • Diet that contains too many processed foods
  • Type 2 Diabetes increases risk
  • Genetics/Family History
  • Crohn’s Disease increases risk


Due to the largely genetic and uncontrolled risk of colon cancer, it’s important that seniors understand the symptoms of the disease, increasing the likelihood that they will catch it in its early stage. Here are some of the symptoms to watch out for:

  • Constant pain in the abdomen (cramps, gas pain, etc.)
  • Blood in stool
  • Severe weight loss
  • Constipation
  • Regular Diarrhea

Because of the likelihood that seniors are diagnosed with colon cancer, regular colonoscopies are recommended in individuals over the age of 50.

Stomach Cancer

Stomach cancer, or gastric cancer, occurs when abnormal cells form a mass in the stomach. Seniors should recognize the causes, risk factors and symptoms of stomach cancer because about 60 percent of those diagnosed with the disease are over the age of 60. The survival rate for those diagnosed with stomach cancer depends drastically on the stage in which it is caught.

Causes and Risk Factors

Similar to many other forms of cancer, the causes and risk factors vary between genetics and environmental factors. These are the most common causes and risk factors of stomach cancer:

  • Genetics (Most common among Asian and South American decent)
  • Family History of Stomach Cancer
  • Smoking Tobacco
  • Eating too much meat
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Diet high in processed or salty foods


Recognizing the symptoms early on is crucial, but typically, stomach cancer isn’t caught until the later stages, decreasing the chance of survival. Here are the most recognizable symptoms of stomach cancer:

  • Weight Loss or Loss of Appetite
  • Blood in Stool
  • Stomach Pain
  • Nausea and/or Vomiting
  • Jaundice

The ability to recognize these symptoms early on will increase the likelihood of the individual recovering from the disease.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a mass of abnormal cells in the breast that has the potential to spread to the surrounding tissue. Despite what many believe, both men and women can be diagnosed with breast cancer. More than 80 percent of breast cancer diagnoses occur in women over the age of 50, proving that it is very important for seniors to be aware of the causes of the disease, as well as having the ability to recognize the symptoms of breast cancer.

Causes and Risk Factors

While the causes of breast cancer are still not completely known, scientists and researchers have recognized prominent risk factors. Here are some of the risk factors for breast cancer:

  • Genetics/Family History
  • High levels of the Hormone Estrogen
  • Obesity
  • High alcohol intake


Recognizing the symptoms of breast cancer early on is crucial to the survival rate. Fortunately, if the disease is caught in its early stages, the five-year survival rate ranges between 93 and 100 percent. Here are the symptoms to look out for:

  • Lump in Breast Tissue or Underarm Area
  • Breast or Nipple Pain
  • Breast Swelling
  • Nipple Discharge
  • Redness or Thickening of Breast skin

It’s crucial that seniors are able to recognize the symptoms of breast cancer so that the disease is caught in its early stage. It is recommended that women give themselves regular breast exams, as well as regular examinations by physicians.

Prostate Cancer

This form of cancer is found only in men, in the prostate, which is located near the bladder and the rectum. About 50 percent of individuals diagnosed with prostate cancer are over the age of 65. Fortunately, prostate cancer has one of the highest cancer survival rates.

Causes and Risk Factors

Not many of the overall causes of prostate cancer are known, but many people are very aware of the risk factors for the disease. Here are some of the most common risk factors for prostate cancer:

  • Male, over the age of 50
  • Most common in African Americans
  • More common in people that have diets high in meat and dairy
  • Genetics/Family History


Recognizing the symptoms of prostate cancer are key to keeping the survival rate as high as it is. If this cancer is caught early, and individuals are given the proper treatment, it’s likely that they survive. Here are some of the most common symptoms of prostate cancer:

  • Blood in Urine
  • Erectile Dysfunction
  • Pain in lower body (hips, lower back, etc)
  • Problems Urinating
  • Urinating too Often

Understand the causes, risk factors and symptoms of not only prostate cancer, but all cancers that are especially common in seniors could potentially save a life. If an individual has further questions regarding cancer, he or she should consult a physician.

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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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