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Cancer Care

What Every Senior Needs to Know About Cancer

What Every Senior Needs to Know About Cancer

This year, an estimated half million Americans will lose their lives to cancer, and three times that many will be diagnosed with this devas­tating illness. Many of these cancer victims are seniors.

"We see a whole variety of different cancers in seniors," says Oncologist Dr. Hugo Hool. "Some of these include skin cancer (squamous or melanoma), prostate cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer and blood cancers."

As scary as cancer is, Dr. Hool wants every senior to understand that cancer is not a death sentence - even if you're well over 70.

Warning Signs of Cancer

"Many seniors ignore the early warn­ing signs of cancer. They believe that there's nothing they can do about cancer, or maybe they're too old to do anything about it," says Dr. Hool. "However, they're often very surprised that there is something we can do about it, especially in the early stages. And treatment is very well tolerated, even by older seniors. The clinical benefit in those over the age of 70 is just as great as those under 70."

Chances of successfully curing your cancer increase the earlier you seek treat­ment. That's why it's important for you to understand the early warning signs and symptoms of cancer.

"I would advise any senior to be on the look out for fatigue, weight loss or lack of appetite. Any skin changes or discolor­ations, unusual bleeding or pain," says Dr. Hool. "Even a cough that does not go away over a period of time. Any sudden change in your health is cause for concern."

If you experience any of these warning signs of cancer, Dr. Hool encourages you to make an appointment with your primary care physician as soon as possible to discuss your symptoms.

Screening for Cancer

"Generally it's the primary care physician that takes a closer look at a patient's symptoms and moves them on to a specialist for further evaluation if necessary," says Dr. Hool. "They're very helpful in deciding if the problem is a common illness or something more serious like cancer. That's why it's very important for every senior to see their primary care physician on a regular basis."

During your regular visits with your primary care physician you should receive routine cancer screenings such as:

  • A fecal occult blood test, flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy or barium enema to detect colon cancer.
  • Mammography and a clinical breast exam to detect breast cancer in women.
  • A Pap test and pelvic exam to detect cervical and vaginal cancers in women.
  • A PSA blood test and digital rectal exam to detect prostate cancer in men.

Preventing Cancer

Besides regular screenings, your biggest safeguard against cancer is improving your general health. As part of April's Cancer Control Month, Dr. Hool encourages you to work with your doctors to control your blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and weight. Keeping each within healthy range as well as eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly can dramatically re­duce your risk of developing cancer.