Ageing is considered as one of the single largest risk factors for developing the deadly Cancer. Cancer happens to be one of the five common causes of deaths in older Indians. With more and more people living longer and life spans increasing, the diagnosed cases of Cancer in elderly are expected to constantly rise. It is yet unclear as to why the risk of Cancer increases with old age, but the phenomenon cannot be denied. The probable reasons behind this could be the activation of Cancer stimulating genes with age and suppression of Cancer preventing genes, impaired cellular repair mechanism, over exposure to carcinogens, etc.
Certain types of Cancer are more likely to develop in people over the ages of fifty, like Cancer of the female genital tract, the head and the neck Cancer, lower and upper gastrointestinal tract cancer, prostate and pancreatic cancer. More than half of the haematological Cancers and breast cancers are seen in patients over the ages of sixty years.
The elderly, either due to lack of lack of interest for screening for Cancer or because of lack of awareness, whatever the reason; they often delay the diagnosis of the condition. Some of the problems associated with elderly and cancer are:
- Very often, the cancer is undertreated in elderly cancer patients. These patients are considered inappropriate for surgical procedures and are thought to be unable to tolerate chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Research to prove this is inadequate as very little work has been done on very old patients of Cancer. It is advisable that age should not act as a deterrent while deciding the course of treatment for Cancer. Rather that thinking of the chronological age, the doctor should take into consideration the mental and physical state of the patient when judging the patient’s adequacy for a specific treatment.
- When taken into consideration, the elderly who are terminal patient of cancer, the palliative care should be given equal importance like that in case of a younger patient. Psychological issues and distressing symptoms of older patients actually need more urgent palliative care. The most essential aspect of this care is providing relief from pain. Elderly patients too need symptomatic care.
- Elderly patients of Cancer do have different treatment requirements in some situations. These older adults often suffer from chronic health conditions like arthritis, high blood pressure, heart diseases, etc, commonly referred to as comorbidities. These comorbidities have an effect on the cancer treatment.
Measures to prevent the occurrence of Cancer in any age are:
- Taking a balanced diet that include fruits and vegetables
- Quitting smoking
- Exercising regularly
- Maintaining a healthy body weight.
So, timely diagnosis, effective treatment and the right care is necessary to enable good prognosis for the cancer patients.
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