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Cancer and Getting Older

Posted 5/24/2016

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  For most of us, both cancer and getting older are not among our favorite things. This is an introduction to a useful article from Cancer Net that discusses some of the issues about cancer treatment for older people. Generally speaking, doctors are increasingly comfortable with treating their elderly patients (who otherwise are in reasonable health) in more or less the same way that they do their younger ones. This has not always been the case, and should be seen as an improvement and acknowledgment that many people do have good and sturdy health into their 70s and 80s.

  There is another side of this topic that is not addressed in the article that will follow. It is the very common question of whether certain symptoms or side effects or reactions or behaviors are due to cancer/cancer treatment or to aging. Example: when you walk into the kitchen and can't remember why you did so, is that memory lapse due to chemobrain or due to normal aging and cognitive losses? Are all the joint and muscle pains due to treatments, especially the hormonal treatments used for breast and prostate cancer, or to normal aging or arthritis? Suspect it is never possible to fully tease out the answers, and I suspect that the answer is usually "some of both".

  Here is the article:

Aging and Cancer

Age is the greatest risk factor for developing cancer. In fact, 60% of people who have cancer are 65 or older. So are 60% of cancer survivors. If you are an older adult with cancer, you are not alone. But you should know that age is just one factor in your cancer and treatment.
The best treatment plan for you depends on your general health, lifestyle, wishes, and other factors. The information on these pages can help you learn your options, cope with concerns, and plan for treatment and recovery.

How being older can affect cancer treatment
Knowing how cancer and treatment might affect you as an older adult is important. You can plan to get help during treatment. If you are concerned about practical issues, such as getting to treatment or paying for it, tell your health care team. They can help you identify potential means of support.
The list below gives tips on planning for some common situations you might face as an older adult.
You have another disease or disability – Talk with your doctor about your medications and treatment plan for all your conditions.
Make sure your cancer doctor talks with your other doctors. It is important for your entire health care team to know your situation.
You worry about getting to treatment and appointments -- Talk with family members and your health care team about options. Many cities have special bus services for people with health concerns. Other options include private medical transportation, rides from friends and family, and more. A social worker on your cancer care team can help you learn about your options.
You need help with daily activities – such as shopping, getting dressed, or taking care of your family. Options include getting help from friends or family members, hiring someone to help, or finding help through a nonprofit organization, senior center, or your spiritual
community. You need help with meals – Good nutrition is an important part of cancer treatment. During treatment, older adults are especially likely to lose weight without trying. This can put you at risk of other health issues. Options include having friends or family bring food, stocking the pantry with foods that taste good to you, and ordering meals from a service, if your budget allows.

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