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Spotting the First Signs of Cancer in the Elderly

Why is Cancer More Common in Older People?

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with cancer and are in need of further assistance, Helping Hands can help. Our expert carers offer live-in care, respite care and visiting care options to help you maintain independence whilst receiving the care you need.

It can be very overwhelming when you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer; unfortunately, it is much more common among older individuals. According to Cancer Research UK, 1 in 2 people will get cancer in their lifetime and people over 70 are more at risk as there are more cancer cases in this age group. This is because people are living longer.

As we age, cells in our body can become damaged and this can be due to a variety of factors, including cells dividing, chemicals from smoking or UV rays from sunlight. Cancer Research UK states, “often this damage can be fixed by our body. But sometimes the damage builds up and can cause cells to grow and multiply more than usual, causing cancer.”

However, we all know that prevention is the best treatment and 4 in 10 cancer cases in the UK could be prevented. You can take steps to help lower the risk of cancer, including keeping active, eating a healthy diet, remaining safe in the sun, quitting smoking and monitoring your alcohol intake.

We understand that ageing is inevitable, but this doesn’t mean you will get cancer. Thanks to research and the availability of treatments, we are more aware of the condition and survival rates are increasing.


Early Signs of Cancer

Spotting signs of cancer early on can make a huge impact and treatment is more likely to be more successful. So, it is essential to look out for anything unusual and contact your GP if you have any concerns. Here are a few symptoms you should be aware of.


Jaundice occurs when your bile duct is blocked, which can be caused by cancer. According to Macmillan Cancer Support, “the bile duct is a tube that drains fluid called bile out of the liver and into the small bowel. However, when it’s blocked, the bile gradually builds up and flows back into the blood.

Symptoms to look out for are yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, itchy skin, and dark yellow urine. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your GP.

Recurring Cough

A cough that does not go away after three weeks or gets worse can be a symptom of lung cancer. Or if you are experiencing recurring chest infections, this can also be a sign of cancer. If you have any concerns, contact your GP and they will then decide whether you need a chest x-ray or be referred to a specialist.

Changes in Moles

If you notice any changes to a mole or freckle, you must contact your doctor and get it checked, as it could be a sign of melanoma, a type of skin cancer. According to Cancer Research UK, “some melanomas develop from existing moles,” and “the rest grow on what was previously normal skin.”

The best way to check your moles is by using the ABCDE checklist. Firstly, it is essential to know what your skin usually looks like. This will give you a good idea if there are any changes. It may be best to take a photo of any existing moles, which you can refer to. Then look for the following signs:

  • A – Asymmetrical
    Moles are usually symmetrical, but if one half doesn’t match the other, it may be cancerous.
  • B – Border
    Moles tend to have smooth edges (border) and are either round or oval. However, melanomas have irregular edges.
  • C – Colour
    If the colour of your mole is uneven or has different shades, it may be a sign of melanoma. They tend to have different shades of black, brown and pink.
  • D – Diameter
    If your mole is 6mm wide or more, it is best to get it checked. A normal mole tends to be the size of the end of a pencil or smaller.
  • E – Evolving
    If your mole changes in size, shape or colour, contact your GP. Normal moles tend to stay the same.


Cancer Research UK states, “persistent lumps or swelling in any part of your body should be taken seriously.” This can be in the armpit, neck, breast, stomach or testicle. Most lumps are harmless, but if you are concerned and it’s changed in size, becomes painful or has been there for more than two weeks, you should get it checked immediately.

Unexplained Bruises or Bleeding

If you experience unexplained bruising or bleeding when you have not hurt yourself, then you should contact your doctor. If you find that you’re having excessive nose bleeds, gum bleeds, vomiting or urinating blood, this could be a sign of cancer. Female individuals who experience vaginal bleeding between periods, sex and menopause should also seek advice from the doctor.

Early Diagnosis

Early diagnosis can be imperative for survival. So, if something feels abnormal, speak to your doctor. After all, you know your body best.

It’s also essential to attend regular screenings. According to Cancer Research UK, a cancer screening test helps diagnose cancer and “looks for early signs of cancer in apparently healthy people with no symptoms.”

Taking preventative measures can lower the risk of cancer and being aware of anything that doesn’t feel right can help detect early diagnosis. It may be that these symptoms may not be cancerous, but to be on the safe side, consult your doctor. After all, the earlier your diagnosis, the more successful your treatment.