August 3, 2013 | by Denise Heady
Most people know that smoking, poor nutrition and obesity are all factors that can increase the risk of cancer. But many are unaware that simply getting older increases the risk of being diagnosed with cancer as well.
This year, more than 1.6 million people are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in the United States. About 77 percent are projected to be people 55 years of age and older. As people age, it becomes even more important to keep their bodies strong and to modify harmful behaviors. "Some people think that if they made it this far without cancer, they are not going to get it, but we know the reverse is true," said Peggy Burhenn M.S., C.N.S., A.O.C.N.S., Cancer and Aging Research group participant and geriatric oncology nurse at City of Hope. "It would be like saying, ‘Well maybe I don’t need to brush my teeth anymore because I haven’t had any cavities in years.’ You would not want to do that." Here are five ways that people 50 and older can reduce their risk of cancer: 1. Get screened. Regular cancer screenings can detect the disease in its early stages, when it is often the most curable. And most screenings – colonoscopy, mammography, pap smears, etc. – are geared to people 50 and older. Burhenn suggests discussing with your doctor the frequency of such screenings based on your personal circumstances, existing risk factors and your age. 2. Exercise. Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days can help prevent cancer, Burhenn said. The activity doesn’t have to be all at once either. It can be broken up into 10-minute increments three times a day. Brisk walking is great exercise and it’s free – all you need is a good pair of shoes. A pedometer comes in handy as a way to track your steps, and you can use it as motivation to increase gradually up to 10,000 steps, or more, per day. 3. Improve your diet. "Increase and eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, so that you have at least five servings a day; more if possible," Burhenn said. Limit consumption of sugary drinks and food, fats, red meat and processed foods. Also, maintain a lean body weight. According to the American Cancer Society, the link between body weight and increased cancer risk is believed to stem from the interplay of fat, sugar metabolism, immune function, hormone levels and cell growth. 4. Stop smoking. Tobacco use is the single largest-preventable cause of cancer and premature death in the U.S. Burhenn recommends to stop smoking and avoid second hand smoke to reduce risk of cancer. 5. Limit alcohol. If you drink alcoholic beverages, stick to one drink per day for women and two per day for men, suggests Burhenn. Limiting alcohol intake is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle. According to the American Cancer Society, alcohol consumption is an established cause of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colo-rectum and female breast, and there is some evidence for an association with pancreatic cancer. Cancer may be a disease of aging, but that doesn’t mean the risk can’t be reduced, said Burhenn.