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How Common Is Cancer Over 70?

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Cancer is a major health concern worldwide. Unfortunately, it’s particularly prevalent among older adults. In fact, age is one of the most significant risk factors for developing cancer. According to data from the National Cancer Institute, approximately half of all cancers are diagnosed in people over the age of 70. Here’s what you need to know.


Most Common Types of Cancer in Older Adults

Among older adults, certain types of cancer are more prevalent than others. The four most common cancers in adults aged 85 and over in the United States are breast, lung and bronchus, prostate, and colorectal cancers.

Breast Cancer

This is the most common cancer among women, and its incidence increases with age. It is also possible for men to develop breast cancer, although it is far less common. According to the CDC, symptoms of breast cancer may include:

  • Pain in any area of the breast.
  • Bloody discharge.
  • New lump, or lumps, in the breast or underarm.
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.
  • Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area.

Lung and Bronchus Cancer

Lung cancer is a leading cause of cancer death in both men and women. Smoking is the biggest risk factor for this type of cancer, but non-smokers can also develop lung cancer. Symptoms may include (according to

  • A cough that doesn’t go away or worsens.
  • Weight loss.
  • Exhaustion or weakness.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Recurring infection or pneumonia.
  • Hoarseness.
  • Persistent chest pain.

Colorectal Cancer

This cancer affects both the colon and rectum. It’s common in both men and women, with the risk increasing after the age of 50. According to the CDC, common symptoms may include:

  • A change in bowel habits.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Bloody stool.
  • Diarrhea or constipation.
  • Aches, pain, or cramps.

Risk Factors for Cancer in Older Adults

Several factors can influence an individual’s risk of developing cancer as they age. These include:

  1. Age: The risk of developing most types of cancer increases with age. This is due to the accumulation of risks for specific cancers that increase with age in addition to the general decrease in immune function in older individuals.
  2. Lifestyle Choices: Factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, poor diet, physical inactivity, and prolonged exposure to sunlight can increase the risk of developing certain cancers.
  3. Genetic Factors: Some individuals have a genetic predisposition to certain types of cancer due to inherited gene mutations.
  4. Environmental Exposures: Exposure to certain environmental factors, such as asbestos, radon, and certain chemicals, can increase the risk of specific cancers.
  5. Chronic Health Conditions: Certain chronic health conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease, can increase the risk of developing specific cancers.

While not everyone over 70 will develop cancer, the risk does increase with age. Regular screenings and a healthy lifestyle can go a long way in preventing cancer or detecting it at an early stage when treatment is most effective.

Originally published February 12, 2024


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