What is cancer and is it age-related?
Cancer is when abnormal cells in your body grow in an uncontrolled way. As you grow older, your risk of cancer increases. This is because the cells in your body are more likely to be damaged as you age.
Not all cancers happen due to age. Some people have a family history of a particular cancer. This means that their risk of developing cancer might be higher than for other people. It can also mean they develop cancer at a younger age.
At what age is cancer most common?
Age is the biggest single risk factor for cancer. Roughly half of all new cases of cancer are diagnosed in adults aged 50 to 74 years. This is the most common age group for cancer. A third of all new cases are diagnosed in adults aged 75 or older.
The most common cancers in adults older than 50 years are:
Young people can get cancer, but they are less likely to develop it than older people. Children younger than 15 years, and young adults aged 15 to 24 years, account for less than one percent of new cancer cases in the UK.
The most common cancers in these age groups are:
- brain and spinal tumours
What are the symptoms of cancer?
As you grow older, your body will change, and it will feel different. But there are some key symptoms of cancer that you can look out for at any age. These include:
- A new lump or swelling in any area of your body, for example in your breasts, testicles, neck, groin or armpit
- Unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite
- Changes in bowel habits
- Unexplained or unusual bleeding – for example, finding blood in your pee, vomit, or poo (stool)
- Changes to your skin, for example a new mole or damage that won’t heal
These signs might not mean you have cancer, and not every person with cancer has symptoms. But it’s important to speak to your GP if you have any of them, or if you notice other unusual changes in your body.
Once you reach a certain age, if you are registered with a GP, you will be invited to cancer screening. For people who do not have symptoms, screening is one way of detecting and treating cancer at an early stage. But if you do have symptoms, contact your GP instead of waiting for a screening invitation.
Whether you attend cancer screening is optional. In the UK, there are national programmes for bowel cancer screening and breast screening in older adults. Cervical screening (also known as a smear test) is also offered to women aged 25 to 64 years old.
What are the risk factors for cancer?
There are several risk factors that affect your chance of developing cancer. Older age is one of the main risk factors for most people. A family history of cancer is another risk factor. There are also lifestyle risk factors. These can be changed to lower your risk of cancer. For example, you can try:
Help and support
If you have questions or concerns about cancer, there are organisations that can provide further information.