Growing Old and “The Big C” (Cancer) … What Should I Do?

One of the most feared diagnosis is “the Big C” – or cancer – for most seniors. We often hear of friends and relatives doing battle with this dreadful disease and it has a lot to do with ageing. Based on UK statistics, 36% of all cancers are diagnosed in people over 75 or older and 53% of all cancers are diagnosed in people between 50 and 74. Noting that cancer can strike at any age, it is a statistical fact that the incidence of cancer is highly correlated with ageing. For men, the top three cancers are prostate, lung and colorectal. For women, they are breast, lung and colorectal — with breast cancer being the most common by far at 30%. Age is a major risk factor but in reality, there is not much we can do about ageing (unless science discovers the proverbial “fountain of youth”).

That does not mean that there is nothing you can do either. While you cannot eliminate ageing as a risk factor, you do have the power to make lifestyle choices that reduces your cancer risks and help improve your odds.

  • Stop Smoking – we know it causes lung cancer
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Control your weight
  • Control your alcohol intake
  • Get regular exercise

With advancement in cancer treatment, getting a diagnosis of cancer is not an automatic death sentence. With early detection, many forms of cancer can be treated and even cured. Even if a cure is not possible, some forms of cancer can be controlled with treatment. What improves your odds of survival significantly is early detection. Here’s what you should take seriously.

  • Since breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women and the risk increases with age, a mammogram is recommended for women starting at age 40-50 depending on your risk factors. You should ask your doctor when you should begin regular mammograms and the frequency you should have them. In Singapore, the polyclinic is the best place to start.
  • For women, you should also ask your doctor about regular pelvic exams, pap smear and HPV test to detect cervical and vaginal cancer.
  • For men above 55, you should talk to your doctor about screening for prostate cancer including measuring the PSA (prostate specific antigen) level.
  • For both men and women, it is recommended that you consult your doctor about starting colorectal screening beginning at age 50. Again the starting age and frequency may depend on your risk factors. The common tests includes fecal occult blood test and/or a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy as recommended by your doctor.

You cannot stop ageing but you can do something about cancer through regular check-ups because early detection saves lives — and it may be yours. Learn more — go to the Singapore Cancer Society website.

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