3 Tips to Lower Senior Cancer Risk

prevent cancer

If it seems like cancer is becoming commonplace, it’s because it is now the second leading cause of death in the United States, bested only by heart disease, according to the CDC. On a more positive note, as treatments have become more refined, the rate of death from cancer has dropped by 27% between 1999 and 2020.

The most common cancers include lung cancer, which accounts for 23% of all cancer deaths, followed by cancers of the colon, pancreas, breast, prostate, and liver and bile duct[1]. Unfortunately, the majority of newly diagnosed cancers and cancer deaths occur in those over the age of 65, making advancing age a significant risk factor[2].

But while you can’t control your age, you can control other risk factors that might lead to cancer. A study in the journal The Lancet found that almost half of all cancer deaths were attributed to preventable risk factors, including three significant ones: alcohol abuse, smoking, and obesity.

Alcohol and Cancer

Consuming alcoholic beverages can be fine in small doses. In fact, the popular Mediterranean diet for seniors allows for one glass of wine each day (although this has been debated by cardiologists)[3]. It’s when alcohol intake becomes excessive that your risk for cancer starts to go up.

It’s been shown that the more a person drinks, the higher the risk of cancer. In fact, the National Toxicology Program lists alcohol as a known human carcinogen. Those who have more than one drink per day or those who binge – consuming four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men in one sitting – increase their risk of cancer. The most common cancers among those who drink too much include those of the head, neck, esophagus, liver, breast, and colon[4].

Abstaining from alcohol can be difficult. It’s an addictive substance that can lead to physical and psychological dependence. Here are some ideas that might help you avoid drinking too much, and if you already have a few too many, can help you stop.

·         Understand what one drink really is. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, one drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 8-9 ounces of malt liquor, 1.2 ounces of an 80-proof liquor (a “shot”) or 5 ounces of wine.

·         Stick to the guidelines. Consumption of alcohol should be limited to no more than two drinks for a man or one drink for a woman each day. Heavy drinking is defined as 8 or more drinks per week for women and 15 or more drinks per week for men[5].

·         Identify your triggers. Why do you drink? Is it because you feel awkward in social situations? Are you trying to bury emotions? Do you drink out of boredom? Explore what makes you want to drink. You might want to do this with a counselor.

·         Join a support group. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous can be helpful, but so can simply spending time with those who don’t drink. Instead of heading to the bar, you can head to a new restaurant to try the appetizers, not the cocktails.

·         Talk to your doctor. When you stop drinking, you might face withdrawal symptoms. Your doctor can help you by monitoring your health and providing medications or even inpatient assistance if necessary.

·         Be prepared for withdrawal symptoms. These can include headaches, sweating, tremors, mood changes, insomnia, and fatigue, among others[6]. Sometimes these can be severe, which is another good reason to talk to your doctor.

·         Get rid of alcohol. Unlike food and water, no one needs to survive. If it is a temptation that you feel is negatively affecting your health, simply get rid of it.

·         Take care of yourself. This might mean starting a new exercise routine, journaling about how you are feeling, discovering a new hobby, or taking the time to pamper yourself. Put your energy into things that create healthy habits.

As a senior managing health issues, it’s a good idea to wear a medical alert pendant. You might feel unsteady on your feet from time to time. An Alert1 Medical Alert ensures that help can be on the way in moments whenever you need it.

The Smoking and Cancer Link

According to the American Cancer Society, smoking leads to 20% of all cancers and 30% of all deaths from cancer in the United States. Eighty percent of deaths from lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer deaths, are attributed to smoking. And even when you don’t factor in cancer, studies have shown that those who smoke are likely to die 10 years earlier than those who do not[7].

There’s no doubt that smoking affects every system of the body in a negative way. But the addictive nature of smoking – the substances that hook you as well as the habit that can be so tough to break – make it hard to overcome an addiction to tobacco.

Nicotine is an addictive drug, and when you stop using it, you can experience a host of withdrawal symptoms, according to the National Institute on Aging. These might include feeling hungry, tired, or irritable, suffering from headaches, becoming depressed, or dealing with sleep problems and an inability to concentrate. Though these symptoms fade over time, they can be strong enough in the beginning to drive someone right back to smoking to get some relief from them.

That’s why it’s so important to have a plan when you choose to stop smoking. Here are some great tips to help[8]:

·         Talk to your doctor. Tell your doctor of your intentions to quit smoking. They can provide a wealth of resources that can help you with your goal, including medication if necessary.

·         Read everything you can about smoking and the consequences of it. Knowledge is power! The more you understand how something works, the better you can understand how to change it. Learn everything you can about smoking, especially smoking and the health problems it can lead to. Understanding how destructive nicotine is to health might be enough to keep you from picking up tobacco.

·         Expect the cravings to hit. Don’t let the desire for tobacco catch you by surprise. Expect to feel cravings and be ready to combat those when you do. Form a plan for how you’ll handle it – it might be anything from calling a friend to jumping into exercise.

·         Get individual or group counseling. Talking with others who are going through the same thing can help immensely. Many hospitals and local clinics have smoking cessation groups that can keep you on the right path.

·         Sign up for communication from SmokeFree60+. These mobile tools from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services can keep you on track when the cravings feel like too much to handle.

·         Reward yourself with the money saved. Make note of how much you spent on tobacco in the past and put that same amount away in savings. After a period of time, that money builds up, and you might be surprised by how much you spent. Use that money to treat yourself to something wonderful.

·         Engage in physical activity. Work those cravings out through exercise. Anything from a slow walk to an intense run, depending upon your ability, can get the blood pumping and eliminate boredom, which can in turn help you avoid smoking.

·         Turn to medication to help. Nicotine replacement products can help you quit smoking. These can include gums, patches, or lozenges sold over the counter or stronger medications by prescription, such as inhalers and nasal sprays.

Did you know that wearing a medical alert watch or pendant can help decrease anxiety? If you are wearing a medical alert system with fall detection, you can rest assured that if you suffer an accident or emergency, you can reach out for help immediately.

Being Overweight Can be Deadly

Obesity is defined as “weight that is higher than what is considered a healthy weight for a given height,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Body mass index, or BMI, is the screening tool used to determine if someone is overweight or obese. Those who are obese have a body mass index of 30.0 or higher. Those who have a BMI between 25.0 and 29.9 are considered overweight.

If you fall among those with a higher BMI, your chance of developing 13 different types of cancer increases significantly. Some of the most common of these include cancer of the esophagus, breast, colon, rectum, uterus, gallbladder, stomach and kidneys. It can be especially dangerous for seniors; more than 90% of obesity-related cancers occur in those who are 50 and older.

But why does this happen? The CDC says that the changes in the body caused by carrying extra weight, such as the long-term inflammation, higher levels of insulin flowing through the body, sex hormones, and insulin-like growth factors all contribute to the risk of cancer[9].

The good news is that tackling obesity can be easier than you might think. Even a small amount of weight lost can help. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force offers a list of tips that can help individuals lose at least 5% of their body weight through increased physical activity and dietary changes. WebMD suggests several options that are great for those over the age of 60:  

·         Burn more calories than you take in. This is the golden rule of weight loss, no matter the age: Make sure you burn more calories than you get through your food or drink.

·         Keep your diet healthy. Choose a diet that includes plenty of fruits, veggies, whole grains, fish and beans. Your doctor can recommend what is best for your health needs.

·         Eat more protein. Protein can keep you fuller for longer, so you don’t reach for those snacks and desserts that aren’t good for weight loss.

·         Have smaller meals. Small meals and snacks mean you don’t go very long without eating, and that can help keep you feeling full.

·         Avoid empty calories. Snacks that have no nutritional value, like cookies or other sugar-based foods, should be avoided to keep calories down.

·         Don’t bother with fad diets. These diets might seem like they work at first, but they don’t work long-term. The best bet is to remember that slow and steady wins the race.

·         Try strength training. Losing muscle mass is a worry as you age, but strength training can help you avoid that.

·         Drink a lot of water. As you age, you might not notice your thirst as much as you used to. When you do feel it, you might think that it’s hunger. Reach for foods rich in water, such as watermelon or tomatoes, and drink at least 64 ounces of water each day.

A great device for seniors trying to lose weight is the Alert1 SOS watch with built-in pedometer. This handy device is more than an instrument to tell time, it also provides you with the certainty that if you fall down or suffer any other sort of emergency, you can reach out for help with a simple touch of the button. Making a point of wearing the device at all times can serve as strong peace of mind. And when you’re trying to improve your body and lifestyle and thus lower your cancer risk, peace of mind is essential!