Cancer prevention efforts rarely focus on the distinct needs and circumstances of older people, who are at greatest risk for developing cancer, according to a new report from The Gerontological Society of America.

The supplement, "Opportunities for Cancer Prevention During Older Adulthood," explores how society can do more to reduce cancer risk and preserve health as adults enter their 60s, 70s, and beyond.

In April 2017, the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors and the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) convened a meeting of multidisciplinary experts to examine opportunities for public health action to reduce cancer risk and promote health among older adults. The discussions at this event resulted in a collection of articles.

Best practices to reduce cancer risk

The supplement calls for such a comprehensive approach, coupled with an intensified application of evidence-based measures and best practices to reduce cancer risk in the growing population of older adults and provide innovative insights for exciting new directions in research and practice.

Older people represent a growing population at special risk of cancer. More than two-thirds of all new cancers are diagnosed among adults aged 60 and above. In presenting their research and discussing the state of the science, the supplement's authors identify a wide range of targets for prevention activities, including improved health literacy, promotion of adequate sun protection, reduced age discrimination and positive attitudes toward aging, studies on the impact of natural disasters and financial hardship on cancer risk, and the appropriate use of preventive health services at older ages.

"Cancer development is a multi-step process involving a combination of factors," the editors said. "Each cancer risk factor represents a component of cancer causation, and opportunities to prevent cancer may exist at any time up to the final component, even years after the first. The characteristics of the community in which one lives often shape cancer risk-related behaviours and exposures over time, making communities an ideal setting for efforts to reduce cancer risk at a population level."