How to Lower Your Cancer Risk

By 2030, it is projected, America’s senior population will reach 20 percent of the population – 78 million people. And a new survey indicates that Americans feel increasingly helpless about their personal cancer risk as they grow older.

So, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) has highlighted the emerging research showing that even in later life, many cancers can be delayed or prevented through regular physical activity and a plant-based diet.

According to the latest estimates, nearly 4 in 5 cancers are diagnosed after age 55 and by age 65, a person’s cancer risk is 10 times that of younger people.

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Increasingly, research is demonstrating that at any age, individuals can take simple steps — like getting and staying more active and eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains — that will help delay aging and lower cancer risk.

“You can’t control your age, but you can control your cancer risk,” said AICR Nutritionist Alice Bender, MS, RD., “That’s what this new science is showing, and that’s what people need to understand.”

With these research findings as a call-to-action, AICR also launched a new awareness campaign — It’s Never Too Late to Lower Your Risk — which will translate the latest evidence from laboratory research and clinical trials into small, everyday changes that offer real cancer protection.

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AICR is joining forces with the Alliance for Aging Research to launch the campaign, which is designed to close a significant knowledge gap among older Americans about aging and increased cancer risk.

New consumer research commissioned by AICR finds that 1 in 3 adults over age 50 are unaware of the link between aging and increased cancer risk and many mistakenly believe it’s too late for them to take action.

Calling the impending graying of America the “silver tsunami,” Daniel Perry, president of the Alliance for Aging Research, documented what is at stake starting in 2011, when the oldest of the Baby Boom generation turns 65 and is eligible for Medicare. According to the latest estimates:

  • In 2011 alone, more than 10,000 Baby Boomers a day will turn age 65. That will translate into more than 3.5 million new seniors by the end of that year alone.
  • By 2030, when even the youngest Baby Boomer turns age 65, the older population will swell to some 78 million adults – nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population.
  • Chronic disease already accounts for more than 75% of the nation’s healthcare bill and these costs are likely to increase as the U.S. population ages.

The “silver lining,” according to Perry, comes from AICR’s new research findings, which show that older Americans have the ability to lower their cancer risk through simple lifestyle change.

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If Americans adopted the kinds of habits that would delay or prevent the onset of cancer, huge savings would result. According to the Alliance, even a 1% reduction in cancer deaths would be worth nearly $500 billion.

Involving 587 Americans aged 50 and older, the AICR survey found the majority of Americans aged 71 and over (51%) do not know that cancer risk increases with age.

This compares with a third of Americans between ages 50 and 70 that do not know about the link between cancer and aging.

Even more troubling, the AICR survey finds that many older Americans think there is nothing they can do to reduce their cancer risk.

According to the survey, approximately 1 in 5 Americans over 50 – 22% – agreed with the statement “It’s too late for me to reduce my personal risk of cancer.”

Among Americans in the 71 and over age group, this figure was significantly higher: 32%.

The new It’s Never Too Late to Lower Your Risk campaign features a new Web site that offers older Americans practical advice, brochures, online tools, quizzes, daily tips, and a variety of other materials on ways to get more active safely and to incorporate more cancer-fighting foods into their meals.

The campaign Web site is available at

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Rakesh Raman