Cancer is on the rise among adults under the age of 50, new research suggests.
Early onset cases of cancers of the breast, colon, esophagus, kidney, liver, and pancreas are among those that have risen worldwide since about 1990, according to a study by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and published this week in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology.
The likely culprit? Increasingly sedentary lifestyles and a Western diet chock-full of processed foods.
While increased detection of cancer at earlier ages plays a part in the rise in early onset cancer, enhanced screening alone does not account for the increase in 14 different types of cancer among under-50 adults from 2000 to 2012, researchers said.
“Each successive group of people born at a later time have a higher risk of developing cancer later in life, likely due to risk factors they were exposed to at a young age,” said Dr. Shuji Ogino, a professor and physician-scientist in Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s department of pathology, in a summary of the research on the hospital’s website.
Western diet:A hot dog shaves 36 minutes off life, study says.
Those born in 1960, for example, have a higher risk of developing cancer than those born in 1950. “We found that this risk is increasing with each generation,” Ogino said. “We predict that this risk level will continue to climb in successive generations.”
The median age for a cancer diagnosis is 66, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Certain cancer risk factors including “highly processed foods, sugary beverages, obesity, type 2 diabetes, sedentary lifestyle, and alcohol consumption” have all increased since the 1950s, the researchers said.
Researchers did not identify specific increases in risk in the various cancers. But, overall, more people globally are less healthy. Those unhealthy behaviors are likely increasing cancer rates at younger ages, they said.
“Among the 14 cancer types on the rise that we studied, eight were related to the digestive system. The food we eat feeds the microorganisms in our gut,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Tomotaka Ugai, also in the hospital’s pathology department, in the summary. “Eventually these changes can influence disease risk and outcomes.”
Researchers worldwide should collaborate to better monitor global trends and a potential global cancer epidemic, the researchers said. More in-depth lifelong studies including children can also help track possible impacts of environmental factors. And ongoing research should include specimens from cancers to determine possible differences between early onset cases and those found later in life.
“This is not only more cost-effective considering the many cancer types needed to be studied, but I believe it will yield us more accurate insights into cancer risk for generations to come,” Ugai said.
What’s everyone talking about?:Sign up for our trending newsletter to get the latest news of the day
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.