We are increasingly approached by older men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer and whose age seems to be the main driver of the treatment they are offered, overlooking their overall health, fitness, and outlook. It’s a very common – and a very emotional – complaint, especially coming from men who are 70+ and extremely fit, mentally alert, sexually active and positive about life.
These men may not be your “typical” 70-year-olds — which begs the question, what is typical? The current models for lifespan are being challenged all the time. How do we draw the line on age-based treatment – or should we do it at all?
Not everyone has access to a clinical team that draws out the broader and deeper information that comes from a holistic approach to patient engagement, and which ultimately delivers a more personalised treatment plan. But the emerging science of longevity may help us to better understand many aspects of older men’s health, which in turn may lead to more appropriate, and personalised, treatments for diseases such as prostate cancer.
So what are the key features of longevity science, and how can you learn more about it? Below is a rough overview.
Biological age vs Chronological age
Chronological age is what we all know as the amount of time passed from your birth to a given date, measured in years, months, days, etc.
Also known as physiological or functional age, biological age differs from chronological age because it is based on factors other than just the day you were born, and these factors are, unlike the length of time that you’ve been alive, things you can influence and even control. They include measures at the cellular and tissue level, often defined by biomarkers.
Biomarkers are biological molecules found in blood, other body fluids, or tissues that provide signs of a normal or abnormal process, or of a condition or disease. Men will be familiar with PSA, a biomarker that signals irregularities in the prostate.
A biomarker may be used to see how well the body responds to a treatment for a disease or condition. Longevity scientists are identifying biomarkers and developing techniques to measure, analyse and evaluate biological age with them.
Longevity scientists work with vast amounts of data to build predictive models on ageing. The more data on any individual that’s collected over his lifetime, the more can be understood and predicted about his health which creates opportunities for more personalised interventions.
Many of the biomarkers of ageing can be impacted by changes in individual behaviour, including diet and exercise. Longevity scientists have undertaken numerous studies to demonstrate this, and advocate for individual ownership of health data so people can build a deeper understanding of the links between their health and their behaviours. This in turn can lead to more self-advocacy and confidence in seeking information and second opinions about their healthcare.
Language and engagement around ageing
Tina Woods, an expert on longevity research and policy, describes this as perhaps the most important element of integrating the science of longevity into our lives and practice. The language of ageing can get very emotive and contentious, — terms like “elderly” “frail” and “aged” are increasingly seen as offensive and even discriminatory — and as language is our means to communicate it’s important to address this and develop a language that both respects and motivates all individuals and societies as they age. Tina joined a recent OnFocus podcast to discuss how the language of ageing influences our thinking and behaviours.
Most longevity scientists are aiming to give all of us the tools to control our own health and healthcare, and for clinicians to provide more personalised approaches to medical interventions. If this approach to your age and health interests you, you can investigate further by going here:
International Longevity Centre UK.
The Sinclair Lab