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Lifestyle and Age
Ernest H. Rosenbaum, MD
- In 1981, cancer researchers Doll and Peto found that about 75% of cancers in the US could be avoided and were the result of environmental factors, such as tobacco use, alcohol consumption, level of physical activity, diet, biologic factors, and lack of screening. The World Health Organization currently estimates that close to 20% of worldwide cancer cases stem from chronic infections. Examples given include:
- Liver cancer associated with hepatitis B
Cervical cancer associated with human papilloma virus
Lymphoma associated with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and Kaposi's sarcoma
Bladder cancer associated with schistosomiasis
Cholangiocarcinoma associated with liver-fluke infection
Gastric adenocarcinoma associated with H. pylori infection
Exactly how factors such as body weight, diet, and physical activity relate to cancer risk is not fully known, but medical studies have shown that these and other environmental conditions do influence the risk of cancer.
The important fact to understand is the relationship between lifestyles and survival following cancer therapy. Exercise and a healthy diet can decrease the risk of recurrence, promote survival, and reduce the risk of toxic cancer treatment-related side effects.
Tobacco use, physical inactivity, diet, and excess weight and obesity have been shown to be important factors in the development of cancer. Lifestyle intervention programs in these areas are available and are effective if used. It takes family, peer, and social support, and personal perseverance to succeed in any exercise, weight loss, or smoking cessation program.
Unfortunately, as people age beyond 75 years, there are other concurrent comorbid diseases that also affect survival, such as heart disease, stroke, obesity, osteoporosis, atherosclerosis (cholesterol hardening of the arteries), and type 2 diabetes.
The incidence of diabetes increases dramatically with aging. It is estimated that by age 85, 25% of people in the United States will have diabetes. These percentages are even higher in certain racial groups such as African Americans.
Until recently, atherosclerosis was considered an inevitable part of aging. Some recent studies have shown that this is not the case. Aggressive treatment of high cholesterol blood levels in patients with documented and quantified coronary artery narrowing (stenosis) has shown that many people can reverse the atherosclerotic process and cholesterol plaque can melt away (regression). There are many medications (Statins) that are very effective and safe in lowering high levels of bad cholesterol and lipids (fats) not responsive to diet alone. (See Heart Disease)
With aging there is a progressive increase in organ dysfunction and a decrease in physical function which can lead to balance problems, including falls or other accidents.
For many, many centuries, humans have tried to find a way to stop the aging process; Ponce de Leon's search for the fountain of youth in the 17th century is one of the most well-known of these efforts.
Today, current studies on worms, fruit flies and some animals, have revealed some answers. Researchers continue to seek the causes of aging, and understand how the causes may be modified or eliminated to help decrease age-related illnesses. Chemical compounds are being sought that can slow the aging process. There is also interesting research on the extension of age using nematode worms given both chemicals and antioxidants that may provide some answers to cell growth and cancer cell longevity.
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