By Dr. Nilesh Vora,
One special group of people I enjoy caring for is the senior population. I love my conversations with them, because so many are filled with wisdom and knowledge that us younger folks simply don’t have. But like all of us, they too need reminders of how best to stay healthy and how to keep diseases like cancer at bay.
Cancer screenings, such as mammograms, colonoscopies, Pap smears, prostate specific antigen tests and lung cancer screenings, can detect cancer early and reduce people’s chances of dying from it.
The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that people at average risk of cancer get colorectal cancer screenings through age 75, breast cancer screenings through age 74 and cervical cancer screenings through age 65. If you are older than 75, consult with your doctor about whether screening tests should still be done.
It’s critical for our senior population to get screened for cancer, especially when you have an expectation of living a longer life.
I want the senior population to know that you can have cancer and still be asymptomatic. Cancer screenings are one of the best ways to detect cancer. As a doctor, it’s challenging to see advanced diseases when I know it could have been caught early. If you don’t detect cancer early and it’s caught at a later stage, it’s harder for people of an older age to undergo rigorous treatments like radiation, chemotherapy or surgery.
The American Cancer Society recommends people 65 or older get tested for colon cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer and prostate cancer.
If you have a smoking history, you may be eligible to undergo a low-dose CT scan to screen for lung cancer. Screening may benefit if you smoke now or smoked before, have no signs of lung cancer, and have a 20 pack-year smoking history.
Women of an older age should still get mammograms every two years, and it’s important to know how your breasts look and feel, and consult with your doctor if you feel any changes.
It is usually not possible to know exactly why one person develops cancer and another doesn’t.
But there are certain risk factors that may increase a person’s chances of developing cancer, like smoking, drinking large amounts of alcohol, excessive sun exposure and obesity.
Research has shown that poor diet and not being active are key factors that can increase a person’s cancer risk. Staying at a healthy weight can reduce the risk of cancer. Excess weight causes the body to make and circulate more estrogen and insulin, which are hormones that can stimulate cancer growth.
As we age, healthy eating can make a difference in our health, help to improve how we feel and encourage a sense of well-being. Eating well can also help reduce your risk of cancer.
Try to incorporate foods high in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients into your diet. Eat a colorful variety of vegetables, including dark, leafy greens. Add fiber-rich beans and peas into your meals, and try your best to eat a colorful variety of fruits. Whole grain breads and pastas are the way to go. Try to avoid eating white rice and stick with brown rice. Be sure to choose foods with little-to-no added sugar, saturated fats and sodium.
Hydrating with water is also something you should practice every day. With age, you may lose some sense of thirst, so besides water, drink low-fat or fat-free milk or 100% juice. Be sure to limit beverages that have lots of added sugars or salt. It’s known that those who live a healthier lifestyle can tolerate cancer treatments better.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than two-thirds of all new cancers are diagnosed among adults 60 years of age and older. As the number of adults living to older ages continues increasing, so too will the number of new cancer cases.
We all need to be in a place where we prioritize and emphasize the importance of cancer screenings, especially those who are 55 years old and above. The only way to detect cancer is to have an appropriate screening. Please make sure you don’t skip your cancer screenings, no matter how old you are.
Simply speaking, screening tests can save your life.
Dr. Nilesh L. Vora is a board-certified hematologist and medical oncologist who serves as medical director of the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Medical Center. He also serves as chair of Hematology and Medical Oncology for the MemorialCare Medical Foundation and assistant medicaldirector of Palliative Care at the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute. He is a generalist with a specialized interest in lung cancer; gastrointestinal cancers, including colorectal, pancreatic and gastric; and malignant hematology disorders.