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Cell ResearchOncology and, more specifically, geriatric oncology is a branch of medicine that is specifically devoted to the study of tumors and cancer among seniors. A medical doctor who practices oncology is called an oncologist or cancer specialist. There are three main types of oncologists: surgical, medical and radiation oncologists. Doctors in this field are concerned with screening for, diagnosing and treating any type of cancer that a person may have. The different types of oncologists often may work together with each other or with a geriatrician or to treat a patient who has cancer. They also provide treatment services such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. Palliative care is also provided by doctors in this field of medicine. Palliative care entails not treating the cancer, but providing pain relief for those who have may have terminal forms of cancer. Oncologists are also there to answer any questions you may have about cancer and caring for someone with cancer.

Cancer and tumors are fairly common in seniors, however,  not all tumors are cancerous. In general, tumors tend to be benign and have a more favorable outcome for recovery because they do not function like cancer. Cancer by definition is malignant and generally becomes progressively worse over time, potentially leading to death.

Unlike younger people, seniors with cancer who are over 70 may require specialized care due to the age of their bodies and its ability to tolerate specific treatments. Specific age related issues must be considered and integrated into their cancer treatment plan due to the fact that seniors:

  • may not respond to the disease or its treatment the same way a younger person would
  • may be less able to tolerate treatments
  • may have other medical issues in addition to cancer
  • may have extensive and complex medical histories
  • may take many medications
  • may have issues related to mental decline that comes with age, as a result of disease or due medication issues
  • may be unable to perform basic or advanced daily living activities such as dressing, bathing or feeding themselves

The risk of getting any type of cancer increases with age, so it is good to be aware of the most common types of cancer that are associated with aging.

Bladder cancer is a type of cancer that forms in the tissues of the bodily organ that holds and releases urine. Most people diagnosed with bladder cancer are over the age of 70. Those who are more likely to get bladder cancer are those who:

  • have had chronic bladder infections
  • have had radiation therapy
  • have had chemotherapy
  • smoke
  • have had bladder issues stemming from chemical exposure at work

Colorectal cancer is cancer that occurs in the tissues of the colon and rectum and is one of the leading causes of cancer-related death in the U.S. Cancer that forms in the tissues of the longest part of the large intestine is called colon cancer. Cancer that forms in the tissues within the last several inches of the intestines closest to the anus  –  known as the rectum –  is called rectal cancer. Those most at risk are  persons over the age of 60. Other individual groups who are more at risk for colorectal cancer include those who:

  • are of African American of eastern European descent
  • have colorectal polyps
  • eat a lot of red and processed meats
  • have an inflammatory bowel disease
  • have a family history of colorectal cancer
  • have had breast cancer

Breast Cancer is cancer that forms in the tissues of the breast, particularly the milk ducts and lobule glands. Although it is more common in women, it can also be found in men. Seniors comprise the majority of those who have breast cancer. Risk factors include:

  • age
  • family history
  • genes
  • alcohol use
  • women who have not had a child by age 30
  • those who take or have taken hormone replacements
  • those who have had radiation therapy

Pancreatic Cancer occurs when malignant cells are found in the tissues of the pancreas. The pancreas is a gland deep in the abdomen that is an important part of the digestive system. Because it grows without symptoms, pancreatic cancer can often be very advanced when it is first diagnosed. The exact cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown but is more commonly found in:

  • women
  • smokers
  • diabetics
  • people with long-term chronic pancreatitis

Prostate Cancer is cancer that forms in the tissues of the gland found in the male reproductive system called the prostate. Rarely found in men under the age of 40, prostate cancer is commonly found in men over the age of 60 and is the most common cause of death in men over the age of 75. Those who are at risk include men who:

  • have been exposed to agent orange and cadmium
  • have been exposed to chemicals at their job, such as tire plant workers, painters and farmers
  • use alcohol in excess
  • are of African American descent
  • have had a brother or father with prostate cancer

Lymphoma (Non-Hodgkin & Hodgkin Lymphoma) refers to the group of cancers of the white blood cells or lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are found in the lymphoid tissue which includes the spleen, lymph nodes, and other parts of a person’s immune system that help to prevent infections. While lymphoma can occur at any age, it is most common in those over the age of 60 and, like all cancers, risk for such increases with age. For most people, the cause of lymphoma is unknown but those most at risk are:

  • seniors
  • those with weakened immune systems such as those who are taking chemotherapy, have HIV or have recently had an organ transplant
  • those with rheumatoid arthritis

Lung cancer is cancer that forms in the tissues of the lung, especially in the cells that line the air passages. Of the two types of lung cancer, small cell and non-small cell, the most common type is non-small cell lung cancer. Occasionally, this cancer is made up of both types of lung cancer which is referred to as mixed small cell/large cell cancer. If the cancer starts somewhere else in the body and spreads to the lungs, it is said to be metastasized lung cancer. Lung cancer is most common in older adults and affects both men and women. More people die of lung cancer than colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. Those most at risk are individuals who:

  • are smokers or have been exposed to secondhand smoke
  • have been exposed to asbestos
  • have been exposed to cancer causing chemicals such as uranium, arsenic in the water, coal products, diesel exhaust and gasoline.
  • have a family history of lung cancer
  • have been exposed to radon gas
  • have had radiation therapy
  • have been exposed to high levels of air pollution


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