Cancer in Seniors: A Growing Trend

The word cancer strikes fear into the person who hears it diagnosed either for them or their loved one.  According to Canada Statistics, over 160,000 cases of cancer were diagnosed in 2010 with majority of the new cases diagnosed in people over the age of 65.  

It is important for both seniors and their loved ones to know these statistics so they can follow a health plan that allows for prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment to increase their likelihood to live a long, full life.


Some types of cancer are hereditary while others are due to aging and lifestyle choices made throughout a person’s life.  Regardless of the reason for the cancer, the likelihood of getting it often increases with age.

Seniors can make lifestyle changes that will help prevent cancer or reduce their risk of developing some types of cancer.  As a family member, you can assist with these changes.  Some changes that can be made include:

  • Stopping smoking
  • Consuming only moderate amounts of alcohol
  • Wearing sunscreen and clothing to protect from the sun
  • Eating healthy
  • Getting more exercise

Early Detection

No matter how healthy you are or what good habits you have, you can still get cancer.  Early detection is the key to surviving cancer, but this often does not happen with seniors.  They may think they are supposed to feel bad and have health issues and just figure it’s “old age” instead of a serious health problem.

Here are some signs to cause concern in seniors.  While they may not necessarily be cancer, it is important to get any of these checked out with a doctor as soon as possible.

  • Growth or change in a mole
  • A sore that doesn’t heal
  • Unusual discharge or bleeding from areas on the body
  • Lumps under the skin, especially around the breast
  • A cough that won’t go away or persistent hoarseness
  • Unusual tiredness that doesn’t get better with rest
  • Difficulty with swallowing

Two of the most prevalent types of cancer in seniors are breast cancer for women between the ages of 50 and 69 and prostate cancer for men from 60 to 69.

Risk Factors

Seniors have several risk factors that increase their possibility of developing some type of cancer.  For one thing, their aging tissues are more susceptible to environmental causes of cancer.  They have a lower immune system and chronic inflammation can increase the risk.

Other issues for seniors with cancer are their responses to certain types of treatment.  They can develop toxicity with chemotherapy more than in younger patients.  Because their bodies have aged, they may have different responses than someone much younger.

Dealing with Cancer in a Senior Loved One

If you have a family member that has been diagnosed with cancer, you need to be aware of the support that they will need.  Frailty in older people can make them more dependent on people while they are in treatment.  Radiation and chemotherapy are two types of treatment often recommended for cancer, but they are not without their own side effects.  Those side effects can be more severe in seniors and leave them unable to handle daily tasks for themselves. Some of the side effects may be:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Slow healing wounds
  • Anemia
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Depression
  • Sleeping problems
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in food taste

These side effects can happen to anyone diagnosed with cancer.  However, they can cause more complications in seniors who may have a harder time fighting past the additional problems from the treatment.  In addition, their bodies do not heal as fast and they may not progress as well in between treatments.

How Can You Help?

Realize that your senior family member will need more care and encouragement.  Here are some practical suggestions to help them during their treatments and the recuperation period.

  1. Prepare meals that are easy to heat up and eat.
  2. Call them to check on them.
  3. Drive them to their treatments and doctor appointments.
  4. Take them for a walk when they feel like it.
  5. Help them get out or visit them.
  6. Encourage them to take short naps more often if they can’t sleep at night.
  7. Assist them with housekeeping or personal care if they have lost their strength.

Carefect Homecare Services can assist in many ways during this difficult period. Our caregivers have been trained to work with seniors diagnosed with cancer and can handle many of the above-mentioned tasks and keep an eye on your senior family member for new or unusual side effects.