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Calls for Stronger Cancer Prevention Initiatives for Older Adults

Society can do much more to reduce the cancer risk and preserve the health of adults entering their 60s, 70s and beyond, but today’s cancer prevention initiatives rarely focus on the specific needs of seniors who are at the greatest risk of developing this devastating disease, says a new supplement to the Journal, The Gerontologist, published by The Gerotological Society of America (GSA).

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Over two years ago, the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors and the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) organized a meeting, inviting multidisciplinary experts to examine opportunities for public health action to reduce cancer risks and enhance the health among older adults. The discussions at this gathering are detailed in 11 articles appearing in the supplement.

Guest editors, Richard A. Goodman, M.D., JD, MPH, of Emory University and Dawn Holman, MPH and Mary C. White, ScD, Chief of the Epidemiology and Applied Research in the Division of Cancer Prevention, pulled together the supplement (Volume 59, Issue Supplement 1, June 2019), titled “Opportunities for Cancer Prevention During Older Adulthood.”

“A comprehensive approach to cancer prevention at older ages would lower exposures to known causes of cancer, promote healthy social and physical environments, expand the appropriate use of clinical preventive services, and engage older adults in these efforts,” the editors write, joined by Lisa C. Richardson, M.D., MPH of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the opening article.

 Taking a Comprehensive Approach to Reducing Cancer Risk

The Gerontologist’s supplement’s articles call for such a comprehensive approach, coupled with an intensified application of evidence-based measures and best practices to reduce cancer risk in the nation’s growing population of older adults, and stresses the need for innovative insights for exciting new directions in research and practice.

According to GSA, older adults represent a growing population at special risk of cancer. More than two-thirds of all new cancers are diagnosed among adults aged 60 and above. In detailing  the science behind their research findings, the supplement’s authors suggest a wide range of targets for prevention activities that includes improving health literacy, promoting adequate sun protection, reducing age discrimination and positive attitudes toward aging, studying the impact of natural disasters and looking at the financial hardship on cancer risk, and determining the appropriate use of preventive health services at older ages.

The editors add, “Cancer development is a multistep process involving a combination of factors.”

“Each cancer risk factor represents a component of cancer causation, and opportunities to prevent cancer may exist at any time up to the final component, even years after the first. The characteristics of the community in which one lives often shape cancer risk-related behaviors and exposures over time, making communities an ideal setting for efforts to reduce cancer risk at a population level,” the authors say.

The entire supplement, is available free to view online.  Go to


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