Saturday, January 14, 2006


Cancer is an aberration of normal cells in which the cells grow in a wild, undisciplined manner. It is the second greatest cause of death in the elderly, led only by cardiovascular disease. The most frequent age for the occurrence of cancer is between 60 to 65 years. Increasing age and accompanying physiologic changes make the older person more susceptible to carcinogens. The three most common cancers and causes of cancer-related deaths are lung cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer. This is true for the elderly as well as younger people. In men over 75 years of age, prostate cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths. In women breast cancer is the most common type at all ages. Skin cancer is possibly the most prevalent cancer, though it is not usually life-threatening.
For each site of origin of cancer, there are "low stage" cancers, which are localized and generally cured by surgery, and "high stage" cancers, which are more extensive, less often curable, and usually treated with radiotherapy or chemotherapy. The staging of cancer reveals the extent of the tumor and allows for the best approach in treatment. Once cancer has been diagnosed and staged, a treatment program can be designed using surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy as needed.
Early detection is extremely important in the future management of cancer, for many cancers can be cured if found early. Some warning signs to be aware of are: a sore that does not heal; change in wart or mole; hoarseness or cough; difficulty in swallowing; a lump or thickening in breast or elsewhere; a change in bowel or bladder habits; unusual bleeding or discharge.
Of course, prevention is most important. Certain changes in lifestyle can be practiced by the older person to reduce the possibility of cancer. For example, avoidance of sun exposure can decrease the incidence of skin cancer and elimination of the use of tobacco products will lessen the number of cases of lung, mouth, and throat cancers.
During the treatment and rehabilitation of the cancer patient, every effort should be made to consider the patient and family as a unit, to focus therapeutic efforts on supportive care, and to make a special effort to manage the patient in a loving, caring surrounding. This is especially important in the terminal phases of a fatal illness. Total care of the cancer patient is of primary importance whether or not treatment is successful and whether life expectancy can be measured in years or days.
For additional information write or call:
American Cancer Society, National Office
4 West 35th Street
New York, NY 10001
(212) 736-3030
See also cancer, bladder; cancer, breast; cancer, colon and rectal; cancer, lung; cancer, ovarian; cancer, prostate; cancer, uterine.
Steinberg, F. U. Care of the Geriatric Patient, 6th ed. St. Louis: C. V. Mosby Co., 1983.


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