Category Archives: Cancer

Cancer Screening: Can it save my life?

Cancer screening overview:

Cancer screening is most effective when the disease is found early. In the early stages however, cancer rarely causes symptoms, making it difficult to be found. Early diagnosis is helped tremendously through diligent cancer screening. The screening of older people is often different in terms of benefits and risks. Little advantage may be gained through detecting a slow-growing cancer that may not cause harm within an individual’s predicted life expectancy. Also, the procedures and additional tests and treatments may carry risks without benefits when the elderly utilize certain forms of cancer screening.

What are some of the cancer screening tests?

Screening tests vary depending upon the type of cancer being considered. Some simple cancer screening can be self administered or accomplished with the assistance of a family member if necessary. For example, a check for colon cancer may simply involve collecting small samples of stool on special cards, which are then sent to specialty health care practitioners, and analyzed for the presence of blood. Also, a woman may be able to detect breast cancer at an early stage by simply examining her breasts monthly (although regular examination by a doctor and mammography are also usually needed). Cancer screening for skin cancer is also helpful in detecting this disease early on. Because most people cannot really see the skin on their entire body, help from a family member or friend should probably be sought from time to time, as well as having a physician perform an annual total body examination.

Doctors usually recommend that older people undergo cancer screening for several types of cancer. For some cancers such as those of the colon and breast, screening has been proven to reduce the risk of dying. However, cancer screening is not equally effective for all cancers, and there has been some disagreement among experts about which people benefit most from the screening tests. For example, some experts agree that older men should have regular rectal examinations to test for prostate cancer and rectal cancer. However, the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test is somewhat controversial. The PSA level in the blood is elevated in men with prostate cancer, but also may increase in men with a non-cancerous condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia, and it may sometimes even be normal in men with prostate cancer. Moreover, cancer screening may not reduce the risk of older men dying for prostate cancer. Thus, PSA cancer screening is commonly not done in men whose life expectancy is less than 10 years (due to their age or the coexistence of other diseases).

Some information from The Merck Manual of Health of Aging

Additional information and web page by Paul Susic Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist (Health Psychology)

Cancer: A Death Sentence for the Elderly?

Cancer is that dreaded word and diagnosis feared by all. Some types of cancer can be treated successfully in the elderly, sometimes with a cure, at other times with a very prolonged remission. It is frequently believed at this point in time, that a cancer diagnosis is not necessarily an eminent death sentence. Even when cancer is relatively advanced , many symptoms may be effectively managed, although it is still true that many if not most older people with advanced cancer may eventually die from the disease.

Cancer is caused by a group of cells ( but usually begins with one cell) that become defective and begin growing out of control. Healthy cells become transformed into cancerous cells in a very complex way. The first stage is the initiation stage in which a change in the cell’s genetic material sets the stage for a cell to become cancerous. Initiation is believed to be caused by various cancer-causing agents (carcinogens), such as tobacco, chemicals or radiation. The second stage is called the promotion stage in which a cell that has been initiated then comes cancerous. Promotion may be caused by substances in an individual’s environment.

Cancers can begin anywhere in the body, but some are more common than others. They can also develop at any age, but are much more common in older people. Over half of all cancer diagnoses and half of all cancer deaths occur in people over the age of 65. Older people are especially more prone to lung, breast, prostate and colon cancer.

Cancer is believed to be more common in older people for a variety of reasons. The longer a person is alive, the more exposure they have to cancer-causing agents. The immune system is believed to become less active and less effective with increasing age, which reduces its protective ability against cancer. Also, the body’s ability to repair damage to genetic material inside the cell declines with age, allowing for more opportunity for cancer cell initiation. Fortunately, there is some evidence that certain types of cancer are actually less aggressive in older people.

Cancers are damaging in a number of ways. As they grow they are known to invade and damage nearby organs and other parts of the body. The cancer may also interfere with the function of organs and tissues simply by pressing up against them. They can also spread to distant tissues producing collections of cells (called metastases) that may then invade and damage tissues and blood vessels in these new areas. Cancers may also produce hormones or similar chemical substances, which can travel throughout the bloodstream wreaking havoc throughout the entire body.

Some information from The Merck Manual of Health of Aging

Additional information and web page by Paul Susic Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist (Health Psychology)