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National Cancer Institute


Critical Issues at the Aging/Cancer Interface - Rosemary Yancik, PhD, National Institute on Aging, NIH

Cancer incidence and mortality rates increase with advancing age. Fifty-seven percent of all tumors occur in the age group 65 years and older; 71% of all cancer deaths are in this age group (1). Older persons have a cancer incidence rate per 100,000 population almost 10 times that of individuals less than 65 years, 2225.3 as compared with the rate of 227.1. The cancer death rate per 100,000 population for the older age group is 1118.4 as compared to the rate for the under age 65 years age group, 66.9, a 16-fold difference. Thus, cancer is predominately a disease of older persons that warrants special attention from a variety of cancer control perspectives—prevention, early detection, pre-treatment evaluation, treatment, and survivorship.

Data from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program (1) and U.S. Bureau of Census (2) illustrate the magnitude of the cancer problem in older persons with age-adjusted and age-specific cancer incidence and mortality profiles for selected tumors. To increase awareness of age-associated problems concurrent with cancer in older persons, information from the National Institute on Aging (NIA)/NCI collaborative studies (3) and workshops (e.g., on comorbidity and cancer, late medial medical effects, caregiver issues) are featured. (4) The cancer statistics are discussed in the context of the aging American population.

Grant Number and Funding Source: None; I will be speaking primarily about NIA’s work or the work of those funded by NIA.


  1. Ries LAG, Eisner MP, Kosary CL, Hankey BF, Miller BA, Clegg L, Edwards BK (eds). SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1997-2001, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD, 2004.
  2. Population Projections Program, Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC 20233
  3. Yancik R, Wesley MN, Ries LAG, Havlik RJ, Edwards BK, and Yates JW. Effect of age and comorbidity on treatment and early mortality in postmenopausal breast cancer patients aged 55 years and older. JAMA Vol 285, No. 7 February 2001: pp 885-892
  4. NIA/NCI Workshop Report, Exploring the Role of Cancer Centers for Integrating Aging and Cancer—Websites. Yancik R and Holmes ME, Exploring the Role of Cancer Centers for Integrating Aging and Cancer Research, March 2002