Health breakthroughs come in all shapes and sizes, and the one we have here is simply aimed at informing the public. It might not be pleasant health news or a positive development, but we should all know about it. And heck, maybe it will lead to newfound treatments down the road. So, let’s take a look at the reason cancer risk rises with age. It actually has much to do with aging tissue in the body.
Cancer occurs much more frequently in older adults. A new study says it isn’t just accumulated mutations over time, but also the changing features of tissue in old age.
By the time you stop growing in your late teens, you’ve already accumulated a large fraction of the mutations you will have in your lifetime. If this was the driving factor, we’d see higher cancer rates in 20-year-olds, when this mutation rate is highest. Plus, mutations are many times more common than the cancers associated with them. So the answer about aging and cancer had to be elsewhere.
Instead of the body gathering mutations until they give us cancer, the study says that, as we age, the mechanisms that younger adults use to fight cancer start to deteriorate. What primarily drives cancer rates higher as we age is the changed landscape.
Your healthy cells are optimized for the conditions of your healthy, younger tissue. Change this balance, and they’re no longer a perfect fit for the surroundings. When tissue is old, healthy cells are no longer a perfect fit, and mutations might help a cancer cell adapt in ways a healthy cell can’t.
As we age, we can still do much toward the goal of cancer prevention. Here is a quick checklist for you:
— Stop smoking, as it’s linked to many cancers
— Avoid excessive sun exposure
— Keep a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein
— Exercise almost every day
— Keep a healthy weight
— Drink alcohol only in moderation
— Schedule cancer screening exams based on your risk factors
— Ask your doctor about immunizations for certain viruses
While cancer remains much a mystery and can develop even in the healthiest people, there is still much we can do for ourselves. One thing is for sure: we should never give up trying to minimize our risks for this disease.