Geriatric Cancer: All You Must Know About It

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Geriatric cancer is a leading concern among oncologists. Here is all you must know about it and ways to prevent it.

Cancer has spread like an epidemic over the last few decades. While we talk about breast, cervical and oral cancers often, we often tend to ignore the fact that geriatric cancer is also a leading concern among oncologists. The reason, there are hardly any doctors who are specialized in geriatric oncology in the country, making geriatric cancer treatment a huge challenge in India. Also, like most cancer among young adults, geriatric cancer is initially asymptomatic, making early detection difficult. Silver Talkies got in touch with oncologists to know all about geriatric cancer.

As per a population-based survey, the incidence of geriatric cancer is projected to be about 20 per cent by the year 2026 and is considered to be one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in India. On an average 10 per cent of the total cancer population is pertaining to the geriatric cohort. Geriatric cancer is mostly diagnosed at an advanced stage.

Dr Trinanjan Basu, Consultant – Radiation Oncologist, HCG Cancer Centre, Mumbai says, “Often several geriatric cancer patients get treated for other co-morbid conditions or chronic diseases for long before the actual diagnosis as it does not show any symptoms at an early stage.”

Most common kinds of geriatric cancer

The most common kinds of cancer prevalent among senior males are:

Lung cancer
Head and neck cancer
Prostate cancer

The most common kinds of cancer prevalent among senior females are:
Breast cancer
Cervix cancer
Other gynaecological cancers

Signs of geriatric cancer

Although like most other cancers, geriatric cancer is asymptomatic at initial stages, here are a few signs that you must watch out.
1) Any non-resolving chronic pain
2) Non-resolving chronic cough
3) Bleeding in cough, vomit, urine or stool
4) Unexplained weight loss
5) Any visible lump or swelling.

The reduced ability to tolerate the treatment happens to be another major concern in geriatric cancer care. Dr Kumara Swamy, Senior Consultant and Head – Radiation Oncology at Aster CMI Hospital, Bangalore, says: “The decreased tolerance with increasing age is mostly due to associated diabetes and hypertension, decreasing immunity and progressively decreasing ability to regenerate the normal tissues affected by the treatment.”

Preventing geriatric cancer

Dr. Somashekhar SP, HOD and Chairman- Surgical Oncology, Manipal Hospitals, Bangalore believes that it is essential to control cancer in mid-life to prevent the increasing incidence of geriatric cancer. A few selected cancer screening technologies can make cancer detection and treatment in midlife easier. Population screening for a few cancers like colorectal, cervical and female breast cancer are ways of reducing cancer deaths later in the age. Screening tests, such as the Pap Smear test for cervical cancer, involves the identification and subsequent removal of precancerous lesions before they develop into cancer. Other types of screening tests, such as mammography for breast cancer, can lead to early detection of cancer. It is essential for an individual to go for screening once a year to prevent delayed detection of cancer and ensure immediate treatment at an advanced stage.

Lifestyle modification – the key to geriatric cancer prevention

According to doctors, although the sequential patterns of aging cannot be changed, factors that contribute to the development of cancer can be changed to promote a healthier transition from midlife to an older age. “Less attention has been focused on approaches for the primary prevention of cancer at midlife, a point in the life course when incidence rates for most cancers begin to increase significantly,” says Dr Somashekhar.

Here are the lifestyle activities that may put you at a greater risk of developing cancer.
1) The habit of smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
2) Poor sleep hygiene
3) A diet devoid of fruits and veggies and rich in red meat
4) Inadequate physical activity

Find out the ways by which you can reduce cancer risk.

1) Follow an appropriate diet rich in protein, essential vitamins and minerals that help in boosting body immunity. A diet with lots of veggies and fruits and with no red meat is essential to prevent cancer.

2) Physical activity is of paramount importance to reduce the risk of cancer. Do not skip your daily exercise. At least, go out for a walk. A simple brisk walking for half an hour twice a day helps in enhancing bone health, improves the mood, immunity, the quality of life and hence becomes the most important tool in preventing and delaying the onset of cancer.

3) Maintenance of psychological positivity and happiness is also essential. Remain socially engaged and active to curb cancer risk.

Over the last few decades, improved technology has made cancer treatment elderly-friendly, targeted and precise. At present, it is the need of the hour to have a multi-pronged approach to increase the number of geriatric oncologists in the country along with providing adequate geriatric cancer clinics and support groups.

Click here to read about an inspirational account of fighting cancer and blindness.

About Author

Sreemoyee Chatterjee

Sreemoyee Chatterjee is the content head of Sliver Talkies. A curious and talkative storyteller, she loves spending time with and working for the older adults and getting the best for them. Sreemoyee has served as a correspondent and on-field reporter for 4 years. A classical dancer and thespian by passion, she spends her leisure by writing poetry, scripts for stage theatres and listening to countryside music.