Dr. Pavan Raghava Reddy, Consultant, Medical Oncologist, HCG Cancer Centre Vijayawada.
While we all know age is just a number and getting older is all about rebooting and exploring new avenues, it is also about being cautious about cancer – a disease in which abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and destroy body tissue. This is because growing age happens to be directly proportional to increasing risk of cancer. Not just that, it is also recommended to keep an eye on one’s lifestyle as an unhealthy and sedentary lifestyle could double the cancer risk among older adults.
The link between growing age and cancer
With increasing age, individuals tend to get more potential exposures and also develop unhealthy habits. These exposures may result in mutations in cells that can cause cancer. While some of these exposures like those to toxins, sun and more are out of one’s control, there are some exposures like smoking, inappropriate diet and others which can considerably amp up the risk of cancer but can also be eliminated and controlled.
A human body develops precancerous cells all throughout its life cycle. When young, its immune system is strong enough to target those cells and kill them. However, when old, the immunity loses its strength to fight, thereby giving in to cancer.
DNA Methylation – another ageing concern
DNA methylation, a process that can interfere with the activation of certain genes, is found to be responsible for the increased risk of cancer with age. Ageing triggers DNA methylation disabling certain genes designed to suppress tumours to turn on, promoting the growth of cancer.
This however, can be averted by adopting a healthy lifestyle, which otherwise, can make it worse with growing age.
Unhealthy lifestyle ups cancer risk- a bitter truth
Cancer is a lifestyle disease and is pretty much preventable by following healthy habits, especially among older adults. It is observed that bad diet, inactivity, smoking and consumption of alcohol are predominant causes of a majority of cancers.
· Eating the right food can keep cancer at bay
High-fat, low-fibre diets are observed to enhance risk of several cancer types like bowel, lung, prostrate and uterine cancers. High-fat and high-energy diets result in obesity which can be a leading cause of cancer.
However, consuming a wide variety of foods from each of these five groups – fruits, veggies and legumes, lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, grain foods – mostly wholegrain and high cereal fibre varieties, milk, yoghurt, cheese – mostly reduced fat, can to a great extent curb potential cancer risk.
· An active life can gift a cancer free life
It has been proven that an excessively sedentary lifestyle can enhance the risk of three cancers – colon, endometrial and breast. In fact, every two hour per day increase in sitting time is associated with a modest but increased risk of colon and endometrial cancers.
Lack of appropriate activities is directly linked with obesity, a major cancer contributor. It has been observed that being overweight increases adiposity, inflammation and insulin resistance which are pertinent in adding to cancer risk.
For older adults, exercising at a moderate intensity for 3 to 5 times a week, warming up for 5 to 10 minutes before aerobic activity, maintaining exercise intensity for 30 to 45 minutes, gradually decreasing the intensity of workout and then stretching to cool down during the last 5 to 10 minutes and going for at least 20 minutes long aerobic exercise every day can considerably reduce cancer risk due to inactivity.
· Giving up smoking and alcohol can be a saver
Combination of alcohol and nicotine to cancer is similar to what gasoline is to fire. Consumption of alcohol and smoking are considered to be major risk factors for cancers in the aero-digestive tract—the lips, mouth, larynx, pharynx, throat, oesophagus and colon. Cigarettes cause a chemical chain reaction in the body that creates a host of carcinogenic compounds. Thus, quitting smoking and moderating alcohol intake certainly plays a leading role in cutting down cancer risk.
Cancer is certainly preventable. Also, treatable if detected early, thanks to the cutting-edge technology that we’ve adopted. All that’s needed to be done is to be aware of the cancer risks with growing age, getting rid of the unhealthy lifestyle habits, and reaching out for appropriate medical help when needed.