There are few words in the English language that are scarier than the big C. And when it comes to age, cancer doesn’t discriminate.
Dr. Kevin Peacock, a hematologist and medical oncologist with Northside Hospital Cancer Institute Suburban Hematology-Oncology Associates in Lawrenceville, explains which cancers are common at different times in life—and what steps you can take to stay healthy for years to come.
15–24 Years Old
It’s often said that teenagers and young adults feel invincible. And why not? They should have their whole lives ahead of them. Unfortunately, cancer can strike even the young and seemingly healthy. In 2020, nearly 90,000 people ages 15 to 39 are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. For people 15 to 24, common cancers are leukemia and lymphoma.
Think ahead: These cancers have a strong genetic component, and while you may not be able to prevent them, you can keep an eye out for warning signs in yourself or your children, such as persistent fatigue, frequent infections, unexplained weight loss, easy bleeding or bruising, and swollen lymph nodes in the neck, underarms or groin. Keeping up with annual appointments to a primary care provider is important, too.
25–39 Years Old
In their 20s and 30s, many people become parents and start focusing on their children’s wellness. But it’s still important to monitor your own health; in this group, breast cancer and melanoma are common.
Think ahead: To prevent breast cancer, changing your habits can help.
“The first thing women can do is maintain a healthy weight,” Dr. Peacock says. “Also, there seems to be a protective effect for women who exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet—one that’s lower in fatty foods and higher in fruits and vegetables.”
As for melanoma, we all know the importance of limiting sun exposure and wearing sunscreen with SPF of at least 15, and both UVA and UVB protection. Keep track of your moles and note any changes or growth to your doctor promptly.
40–54 Years Old
Turning 40, and then 50, can mean you’ve developed rich relationships, had rewarding life experiences and achieved financial stability. Aging, unfortunately, also means an increased risk of certain kinds of cancer. For women, breast cancer is still common, and it’s now more important than ever to talk to your doctor about when to begin screening mammograms. For middle-aged men, testicular cancer is a common diagnosis.
Think ahead: Many men with testicular cancer have no known risk factors, and of the ones who do, the risk factors are unpreventable—undescended testicles, white race and a family history of the disease. You can, however, identify it early and have a better chance of treating it.
“It’s a fair thing for men to check their testicles from time to time,” Dr. Peacock says, “and if they feel any abnormalities—masses or bumps that shouldn’t be there—then they should get in touch with their doctor.”
55–69 Years Old
By the time you’re starting to get the senior discount, life is good. Retirement is on the horizon, the kids have moved out and you have a dream vacation planned. For men older than 55, though, prostate cancer is a looming risk, Dr. Peacock says. At some point in their lifetimes, 12 percent of men will be diagnosed with the disease. For women, breast cancer is still a big threat.
Think ahead: Men should focus on their diets to prevent prostate cancer.
“There is some correlation between men who eat a lot of vegetables having a lower risk versus men who eat more fatty foods or red meats,” Dr. Peacock says.
Also, studies have shown that lycopene, found in tomatoes, may have preventive effects for cancers of the prostate, skin, breast, lung and liver. Women should continue their mammograms.
70+ Years Old
As you’ve grown older, you’ve probably seen several friends or family members battle cancer. So you’re well aware of the importance of being vigilant about your health. Though breast and prostate cancers are still leading threats for women and men, lung cancer kills more Americans than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined. The average age of diagnosis is about 70.
Think ahead: This should come as no surprise, but among the ways to reduce your risk of lung cancer, “obviously the big one is not smoking,” Dr. Peacock says. (Even if you don’t smoke, avoid secondary exposure from people who do smoke.) If you stop smoking before a cancer develops, your damaged lung tissue gradually starts to repair itself. No matter what your age or how long you have smoked, breaking the habit may lower your risk and help you live longer and better.