The probability of being diagnosed with cancer at 70 years is approximately one hundred times greater than at 20 year. Several observations suggest that this increase in incidence is caused by a decrease in the effectiveness of our anti-cancer defenses during aging.
The appearance of cancer is not an instantaneous phenomenon, which occurs overnight. On the contrary, it is for years and decades that the cells of the body have accumulated multiple genetic mutations that have transformed their functions and allowed them to grow and invade the body.
The strong increase in cancers at advanced ages is therefore partially a reflection of the time required by cells to accumulate this “arsenal” of mutations.
Several observations nevertheless suggest that these mutations do not are not the only reason older people are at higher risk for cancer. For example, a very large number of mutations appear during the development of the body, so that by the time our growth ends, in late adolescence, we have already accumulated the majority of these precancerous mutations.
In this sense, studies indicate that 33% of women in their forties already have small breast tumors and around 40% of men of the same age have it in the prostate. However, a much smaller percentage of the population (between 10% and 15%) will develop either of these cancers, even at older ages.
In other words, we cannot explain the increase in cancer with age only as an accumulation of mutations by cells during aging.
Our lifestyle favors or prevents the appearance cancer
The environment in which abnormal cells that seek to become cancerous are found is normally very refractory to the growth of these tumors. It is an absolutely essential adaptation to the evolution of complex organisms like that of the human being.
Indeed, the process of cell division necessary to maintain the functioning of our body generates billions of cells per day, including a million abnormal cells, and it is therefore essential to prevent these cells from reaching a cancerous stage.
Our lifestyles can however change considerably this environment and make it more permissive for the growth of abnormal cells. Smoking, unhealthy diet, excess weight or even physical inactivity all have the common characteristic 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 probability that an abnormal cell escapes these defenses and develops into mature cancer.
Help your immune system
Even though it is more common in older ages, cancer is not not an inevitable consequence of aging. But to prevent this disease, it is absolutely necessary to preserve our natural defenses as much as possible, in particular by limiting the development of chronic inflammation to a minimum.
A diet richer in plants and devoid of overloaded bad foods of harmful sugars and fats, regular physical activity and maintaining a normal weight remain the best strategy for a long life without being affected by cancer.
Degregori J. Challenging the axiom: does the occurrence of oncogenic mutations truly limit cancer development with age? Oncogene
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