Putting on weight as we age is not just an issue of vanity, it also increases the risk of being diagnosed with cancer, says Margaret Jennings.

TRYING to fit into that dress for the summer? 

While vanity might be a driving force for many of us in our battle with the bulge, putting on extra weight can have far more serious consequences than whether we can squeeze into last year’s outfits.

Many of us might well ask, as we reach a certain age: ‘why bother slimming down now?’ or ‘why change my ways?’ 

But being overweight increases your odds of getting cancer and if you are diagnosed, it slows down your rate of recovery.

Add to that equation the fact that we have an increased risk of getting cancer as we age and the message that we need to take back some control ourselves — through our lifestyle — needs to be heard loud and clear

The latest trends report published by the Irish National Cancer Registry shows that the chances of a woman developing malignant breast cancer before her 75th birthday, currently stands at about one in 10.

But it’s not all doom and gloom and there is plenty you can do to help yourself — a theme that will be driven home, out by Annie Anderson, a professor of public health nutrition, at a forthcoming talk organised by the Irish Cancer Society.

Anderson, who is also a co-director of the Centre for Research into Cancer Prevention and Screening, at the School of Medicine in the University of Dundee, has called her talk ‘Stacking The Odds Against Cancer and The Role of our Genes, Lifestyle and Luck’.

She came up with the title because in her experience she has met, for instance, women aged 50 — 70 during breast cancer screenings, who tend to blame their genes, or leave cancer down to fate or luck, without realising how changes in their lifestyle — like managing weight, watching what they eat, how much alcohol they drink and how much they exercise they get, can increase or lessen their risk of getting some of the most common cancers.

“We all have the potential now to live much longer than we have done and my sense is that the quality of life is as important as the length of life, so obviously what we’re interested in, is taking stock of how we are doing and identify first the small changes we can make.

“While there are no promises that can be made to prevent cancer, the message I want to get across is that the odds can be reduced. 

"There is data to show that even for women over 50 if they change their weight they can still reduce the risk of getting breast cancer; even at that stage of life, it’s worthwhile doing. 

"It’s a message that lots of women are unfamiliar with.”

There are 11 cancers that are linked to obesity, both in raising the risks of getting those diseases and in the impact that being overweight has on survivorship.

After smoking, weight management is the biggest modifier of risk for cancer itself, with curbing alcohol intake to no more than one unit of alcohol a day, and being physically active also important, says Anderson.

“We know breast cancer is more likely as we get older but about 30 per cent of breast cancer is due to lifestyle,” she points out.

“We used to think body fat was just fat cells but now we know there is a range of hormones produced in body fat, so again looking at breast cancer we know that oestrogen is produced and oestrogen affects the cancer process and it is more likely to speed up the cancer cells.”

Even in older women?

“Yes, because you normally think that after menopause the hormones are gone, but in fact adipose is still a site of hormone production. 

"Also we know that obesity is associated with inflammation and inflammatory markers and these markers can also be seen in adipose tissue.”

Anderson, who is 58 and a grandmother, practices what she preaches: “I do prioritise and make sure I get some exercise every day. 

"Once upon I time I would wake up and say ‘oh what will I cook for tea tonight?’ When you’ve got family that’s the first thought. 

"Now they’re grown up, it’s ‘oh how will I get my activity today? 

"For me, I am getting old and creaking a bit at the seams, so I have to make the best of what I’ve got. 

"I’m fortunate that I have a very supportive husband who’s a bit older and feels this also.”

In the meantime, for those who are confused by all the conflicting cancer-scaring information which features daily in the media, she suggests checking out the World Cancer Research Fund, a highly regarded website for science, ideas and programmes at www.wcrf-uk.org 

Professor Anderson’s is the first in a new series of public talks about cancer, being rolled out by the Irish Cancer Society, on June 2, at the Science Gallery, Pearse Street, Dublin.

Her personal blog about screening is at: www.scpnblog.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/what-if/

Sarandon secret

Forget your expensive lotions and potions, the secret to keeping your skin looking good comes a lot cheaper, according to 69-year-old actress Susan Sarandon.

Ageing with attitude: Step it out to reduce odds of serious illnesses like cancer

“Sex — that’s good for your skin, right?” she said suggestively, when asked about her beauty secret, in an interview with the Daily Mail.

Getting older has never made her feel unsexy: “I feel just as sexy as I did when I was younger — more so, in fact,” she said.

Aside from raising her endorphin levels in between the sheets, her pro-ageing formula also includes using sun screen, exercising, and keeping away from “toxic things and toxic people”.

Sarandon, who will be 70 in October, recently became a brand ambassador for giant cosmetics company L’Oreal.

Charity skydive

If taking a tandem skydive from 10,000 feet has been on your bucket list, then go raise money in the process, for Age Action, the organisation that strives to make Ireland a better place for older people.

Ageing with attitude: Step it out to reduce odds of serious illnesses like cancer

You can jump any time up to the end of October, once you have raised €480. 

A group jump is organised for September 3, if you’d prefer to join other Age Action supporters. 

Find out more at http://bit.ly/AASkyDive 

Meanwhile, if you prefer the thrill of supporting financially, rather than taking that adrenaline-fuelled leap, you can support the CEO of Age Action, Eamon Timmins, who says the money his skydive raises is badly needed for the organisation’s Care and Repair programme, which helped 28,000 older people last year. 

Check out his page at http://bit.ly/ETSkyDive.

Ageing Quote

"What the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes."

— US illusionist Harry Houdini

Silver Surfer

Stars who become 90 this year http://bit.ly/1OwuEYZ 


With the housing crisis, renovating a run-down property is worth considering if you have the inclination, time, funds and a good team of contractors around you, writes Carol O’CallaghanBehind the scenes in The Great House Revival

How toned is your pelvic floor? If you live in France, it’s likely to be very toned. In Ireland, perhaps not so much.Big squeeze: Why pelvic floor exercises are essential for women

More From The Irish Examiner