A Closer Look at Cancer in Seniors

Calendar Icon Updated January 15, 2019
Medicare

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in all age groups, but it is especially prevalent in seniors. The good news is that advancements in the treatment of cancer are being made in leaps and bounds, meaning the chance of survival is better than ever. But the best deterrent is to get regular check-ups and seek treatment early if you suspect cancer is present.

Warning Signs

Here are some of cancer’s early warning signs:

  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Feeling weak and tired
  • Changes in bladder and bowel movements
  • Unexplained bleeding or discharges
  • Sores that do not heal
  • A lump or hardening of tissue in the breast or anywhere else on the body
  • A cough that does not go away
  • Difficulty in swallowing

Just because one or more of these symptoms are present does not automatically mean cancer is present, but it is best to see a doctor as soon as possible to be sure.

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Diagnosis

If cancer is diagnosed, a patient may undergo surgery, radiation or chemotherapy or a combination of therapies. Age will play a factor in determining what kind of treatment is best. Because many seniors also have other health related conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes or arthritis, this may affect also affect how cancer is treated.

Seniors with cancer may also have other concerns that can also impact how they react and cope with cancer treatments.

A big obstacle for seniors with cancer is the feeling of a loss of control. Cancer treatments may interfere with daily activities and undermine the strong need for continued independence. As an offshoot to this, seniors who still enjoy driving privileges may not be able to do so in the course of treatment. Finding reliable transportation is one of the issues that will need to be addressed.

Older people are less likely to have a strong support system in place as well. The combination of being sick through cancer and cancer treatments, along with a lack of social outlets can lead to depression and anxiety due to increased social isolation.

Financial issues can also weigh heavily on cancer sufferers. A senior who has worked their entire life may feel that the cost to treat cancer will destroy the nest egg that they have built for years upon years. There are ways to manage cancer care costs and it’s a good idea to discuss them with a doctor or case manager if this is a concern. Medicare will cover a good portion of the costs of care for people 65 and older, but there are sure to be out-of-pocket costs as well.

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While a diagnosis of cancer can be a blow to the patient, it will also impact family members, especially those who are going to be caregivers. Caregiving is a difficult task that may seem too complex and overwhelming at the start. If possible, it’s best to think of caregiving as a team effort with each family member or friend understanding what their role is. It’s also important to figure out what each caregiver is best at and try to play to those strengths. Some will be better at medical care, others with financial and insurance issues, and still others to comfort and provide emotional support to the patient.

In all instances, it’s best to remain positive. It will set the tone for everyone involved. As a caregiver, it’s also okay for you to seek help and support as well, whether that comes from your church, social workers or healthcare providers. Only be keeping yourself mentally and physically healthy are you able to try and do the same for the senior with cancer.

Eligibility Team

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