Is it possible to reduce cancer risk as you get older?

You’ve probably noticed that older folks are more affected by cancer than younger people.

Of course, there are many exceptions – you may even be one of them, or perhaps you know someone who developed cancer at younger age. I meet people each day who are in their 30s or 40s and, despite being the picture of health, find themselves faced with cancer.

In next week’s email, I’ll reveal why and how that occurs…and what you can do about it!

But first, let’s unpack this all-too-common question:

Why are older people more prone to cancer?

CTOAM’s cancer expert & research scientist, Alex Rolland, made a video for you to explain just that.

How to Reduce Cancer Risk

The answer is pretty in-depth, so I want to share it fully here.

This is what Alex says:

As we age, our DNA is arranged in packets called chromosomes. These chromosomes are basically just a structural way of organizing the DNA and the genes that we have. (We have different genes on different chromosomes.) 

At the cap of these chromosomes is a set of base pairs called a telomere, which acts as a sort of protective cap. It’s kind of like when you have a key and you have a little rubber ring around the key to protect it from wearing out.

As you get older, these telomeres wear down. And, as a result, you’ll start seeing the loss of genes that are in the areas of these telomeres. (Because the genes become damaged.)

Those genes are typically involved with things like skin elasticity, bone maintenance, and so on. That’s why you develop more wrinkles and your bones get weaker as you age…it’s simply caused by the wearing down of the telomeres.

And! We also have something called telomerase, which is an enzyme that rebuilds the telomeres every time a cell reproduces itself. In normal cells, telomerase is not active all the time – it’s only supposed to be turned on when we’re younger. 

But guess what?

It turns out that cancer cells also have an active telomerase! In fact, the telomeres process is necessary in order to develop cancer. To put that another way: in order for a normal cell to turn into a cancerous cell, you need four signaling pathways to be altered; the telomerase pathway is one of those.

Aaand, here’s another catch…

In cancer cells, the telomerase pathway is active all the time. 

That’s why cancer cells can live forever! The enzyme keeps them forever young. Cancer cells don’t age.

Okay, let’s take a deep breath and figure out what that actually means for you.

In a nutshell…

As you age, there’s a natural process that will inevitably occur in your body, which will increase your chances of getting cancer and other age-related illnesses. And, unfortunately, it’s not possible to prevent this process from occurring – at this point in time, anyway. (Who knows what technology has in store for us in future!)

So, is there anything you can do to help reduce your risk of cancer as you age?

Yes!

Lifestyle factors – like your diet, exercise, and environment – also have a big impact on your cancer risk as you age.

When it comes to aging and cancer, all of our cells have a pre-set lifespan. What this means is the number of times a cell can copy itself before it’s programmed to die – this is referred to as a Hayflick number. Every cell has a different Hayflick number. 

Once you start reaching the end of that Hayflick number, the cell starts to become damaged. And, after a while, the cell stops being able to reproduce. This is where we start to see various age-related illnesses occur in someone. 

What does this mean?

If you have less turnover in your cells, you’re going to live longer.

So! It’s in your best interest to engage in activities and behaviours that reduce damage to the cells, which will prevent them from needing to copy themselves more than needed…

Which will prolong your cells’ lifespan…

Which will, in turn, prolong your lifespan!

For example, say you’re a smoker. Each time you smoke, you cause damage to your cells and those cells instantly have to copy themselves again. And you’re basically eating through your Hayflick number when you don’t need to be.

That’s why practicing good self-care is so important for cancer prevention, as well as during treatment and to prevent recurrence. 

Getting enough sleep, eating well, reducing stress, and doing regular exercise & strength training all play a huge part in keeping your cells healthy.

…Does that make sense?

I know this was a bit heavy on the science bits.

So don’t worry if you didn’t get everything…that’s not your job – it’s ours!

But if you do have any questions, just hit Reply to this email and ask. 

The important takeaway is: while you can’t prevent the natural increase in cancer risk that comes with aging, you can mitigate it by practicing good self-care.

Published by on September 29, 2021
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