The probability of being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 70 is about a hundred times greater than at the age of 20. Several observations suggest that this increase in incidence is caused by a decrease in the effectiveness of our anti-cancer defenses during aging.
The onset of cancer is not an immediate phenomenon that occurs overnight. On the contrary, it is for years and decades that body cells have accumulated several genetic mutations that have transformed their functions and allowed them to grow and invade the body.
The sharp increase in cancer in advanced ages is therefore partly a reflection of the time that cells take to accumulate this “arsenal” of mutations.
However, several observations suggest that these mutations are not the only reason why the elderly have a greater risk of cancer. For example, a very large number of mutations occur during the development of the body, so that when our growth ends, at the end of adolescence, we have already accumulated the majority of these precancerous mutations.
In this sense, studies show that 33% of women in their forties already have small breast tumors, and almost 40% of men of the same age have them in the prostate. Still, a much smaller percentage of the population (between 10% and 15%) will develop one of these cancers, even at old ages.
In other words, the increase in cancer with age cannot be explained solely by an accumulation of mutations of cells during aging.
Our lifestyle habits promote or prevent the occurrence of cancer
The environment in which the abnormal cells that seek to become cancerous are found is usually very resistant to the growth of these tumors. It is an absolutely necessary adaptation for the development of complex organisms such as humans.
In fact, the process of cell division necessary to maintain our body’s function generates billions of cells a day, including a million abnormal cells, and it is therefore important to prevent these cells from reaching a cancerous stage.
However, our lifestyle habits can significantly change this environment and make it more permissive to the growth of abnormal cells. Smoking, poor diet, obesity or physical inactivity all have the common feature of promoting inflammation in this environment, a condition that promotes the acquisition of cancerous properties by abnormal cells.
As we age, the impact of these bad habits becomes more and more important, and the weakening of our normal defense mechanisms therefore increases the likelihood that an abnormal cell will escape these defenses and develop into mature cancer.
Help your immune system
Although more common in older ages, cancer is not an inevitable consequence of aging. However, to prevent this disease, it is absolutely necessary to preserve our natural defenses as much as possible, especially by limiting the development of chronic inflammation to a minimum.
A diet rich in plants and free of bad food overloaded with harmful sugars and fats, regular physical activity and maintaining a normal weight remain the best strategies for living a long life without being affected by cancer.
Degregori J. Challenging the axiom: does the occurrence of oncogenic mutations really limit cancer development with age? The oncogene