Cancer can develop at any age. But as we get older, most types of cancer become more common. This is because our cells can get damaged over time. This damage can then build up as we age, and can sometimes lead to cancer.

    Researchers aren’t sure why this is so. It could be that the passing decades give your cells more time to turn faulty, or mutate, and grow into cancer. Or older age simply means you’ve been exposed to sunlight, cigarette smoke, chemicals, and other cancer-causing agents for longer. It’s likely a combination of time and exposure that raises the risk of getting cancer at an older age. 

    Cancer Cases by Age Groups

    You can get cancer at any age, including as infants and toddlers. But cancer is mostly a disease of middle age and beyond. The median age at diagnosis is 66, meaning that half of all new cases are found before then and half are diagnosed later.

    The following is the share of diagnoses for all types of cancer in the U.S. by age groups:

    • Under 20: 1%
    • 20-34: 3%
    • 35-44: 5%
    • 45-54: 14%
    • 55-64: 24%
    • 65-74: 25%
    • 75-84: 20%
    • 85 and over: 8%

    Cancer Types by Age

    The link between cancer and age can differ by types of cancer. For example, the most common cancers found in kids 14 and younger are leukemia, lymphoma, or cancer of the brain or central nervous system. More than one in four people diagnosed with bone cancer are under 20.

    The risk of many cancers rises in tandem with age. One in 870 women at age of 40 will get ovarian cancer within 10 years. For 80-year-olds, the chances are three times higher, or one out of 283 women.

    Some common cancers in adults under age 50 include:

    • Leukemia and lymphoma
    • Thyroid cancer
    • Melanoma
    • Breast cancer
    • Germ cell tumors

    Some of the most common cancers in adults over 50 include melanoma and cancers of the:

    • Breast
    • Lung
    • Prostate
    • Colon
    • Bladder

    Some cancers, such as lung, pancreatic, and ovarian cancers, are often hard to notice until in later stages. So by the time your doctor finds them, the cancer may have been growing for some time. Other cancers, such as breast cancer, melanoma, and prostate cancer, are often caught sooner.

    The median ages at diagnosis by cancers by types are:

    • Breast: 62
    • Lung: 71
    • Prostate: 66
    • Pancreas: 70
    • Colon: 67
    • Melanoma: 65
    • Bladder: 73
    • Cervix: 50
    • Ovary: 63

    Spotting cancer early matters

    Remember, spotting cancer at an early stage means treatment is more likely to be successful. It’s important to listen to your body. If something doesn’t look or feel quite right, speak to your doctor – don’t wait to see if it gets worse. And don’t assume unusual changes are down to ‘just getting older’, or part of another health condition you may have. If it’s not normal for you or won’t go away, get it checked out.

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