Cancer Prevention for Aging Adults

Approximately 38.4% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes. A major risk factor for cancer is advanced age. People > 65 years account for about 60% of newly diagnosed malignancies and 70% of all cancer deaths.       

With over one-third of Americans developing cancer, prevention strategies are critical to reducing risk. Around 30-50% of cancers are preventable and small changes in the diet can help. Professionals working with older adults play a key role in educating on cancer prevention. The World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research have developed 8 key recommendations to help adults reduce the risk of developing cancer.

  1. Maintain a healthy weight. 
  2. Stay active.
  3. Eat more plant-based foods.
  4. Limit fast food and other processed foods high in fat, starches, and sugar.
  5. Limit consumption of red meats, such as beef and pork, and avoid processed meats.
  6. Limit sugary drinks.
  7. Limit alcohol
  8. Don’t rely on supplements for cancer prevention.

Two major recommendations to focus on are eating more plant-based foods and limiting the consumption of red and processed meats.

Eat more plant-based foods

Many diet trends today focus on limiting carbohydrates, but it’s important to remember that plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, contain carbohydrates. It’s recommended by MyPlate that adults eat at least 1 ½ – 2 cups of fruit and 2-3 cups of vegetables per day as part of a healthy eating pattern. However, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), just 1/10 adults meet the fruit or vegetable recommendations.

Fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins and minerals—but did you know they are also packed with phytonutrients? Phytonutrients are substances found in plants that are beneficial to our health, and they may help prevent various diseases.

With a little planning, eating enough fruits and vegetables can be easy. Here are some ideas:

  • Add a serving of fruit to breakfast such as ½ cup berries, ½ cup fruit juice, or a banana. 
  • At lunch include a cup of crisp raw carrots or celery and a small fresh peach or plum. 
  • For dinner eat 1 small baked potato along with ½ cup of green beans or broccoli.

Limit the consumption of red and processed meats

Animal protein is promoted as part of a healthy diet, and it provides important nutrients such as iron, vitamin B-12, and zinc. However, the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research recommends limiting the consumption of red meats and avoiding processed meats.

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) moved red meats (i.e. beef, pork, lamb, and goat) to a Class 2A carcinogen, which indicated that red meat is a probable cause of cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends to limit red meats to 3 portions per week, or about 12-18 ounces.

That same year, the IARC labeled processed meats as a Class 1 carcinogen, which equates it with tobacco as an item that promotes cancer. Processed meats are meats that have been preserved by smoking, curing or salting, and/or have the addition of chemical preservatives. Processed meats are typically high in calories, contain large amounts of salt, and some methods used to create processed meats generate carcinogens. Since it is unknown how much processed meat is safe, it is best to eat none to very little.

Reprinted from American Society on Aging