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Study: More people under 50 being diagnosed with cancer than ever before

Researchers examined global data on 14 different cancer types.

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The team discovered people’s diet, lifestyle, weight, and environmental exposure had substantially changed in the last few decades.
(Golden Dayz via Shutterstock)

By Pol Allingham via SWNS

More people under 50 are being diagnosed with cancer than ever before, a new study has revealed.

A western diet and lifestyle may be causing an early-onset cancer epidemic, according to researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA.

They revealed early onset cancer diagnoses of the breast, colon, esophagus, kidney and liver across the world have all increased since around 1990.

The research team observed that the later people were born, the higher their cancer risk.

Professor Shuji Ogino, a physician-scientist in the Department of Pathology at the Hospital, said: “From our data, we observed something called the birth cohort effect.

“This effect shows that each successive group of people born at a later time (e.g., decade-later) have a higher risk of developing cancer later in life, likely due to risk factors they were exposed to at a young age.

“We found that this risk is increasing with each generation."

“For instance, people born in 1960 experienced higher cancer risk before they turn 50 than people born in 1950 and we predict that this risk level will continue to climb in successive generations.”

The study published in Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology discovered people’s diet, lifestyle, weight, and environmental exposure had substantially changed in the last few decades.

This led them to believe western diet and lifestyle could be contributing to the early-onset cancer epidemic.

Though this was in part due to more cancer screenings being conducted, they noted the increase in many of the 14 cancer types is probably not solely caused by improved screening.

Likely risk factors for early onset of the disease include alcohol consumption, sleep deprivation, smoking, obesity, and eating highly processed foods.

They were surprised children get far less sleep than they did a decade ago, even though adult sleep duration hasn’t changed much.

Since the 1950s there has been a significant increase in people eating highly processed foods, and sugar-heavy beverages, becoming obese, being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, leading sedentary lifestyles, and consuming alcohol.

Lead author Dr. Tomotaka Ugai, also of the Department of Pathology, 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.

“Diet directly affects microbiome composition and eventually these changes can influence disease risk and outcomes.”

To conduct the study the group first looked at global data on 14 different cancer types, and uncovered adults under 50 had a rising cancer risk the later they were born between 2000 and 2012.

Next, they searched for studies examining possible risk factors including early life exposure.

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(Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

Finally, the group examined the literature describing clinical and biological tumor characteristics of early-onset cancers compared to later-onset cancers diagnosed after age 50.

However, there were limitations to the study as the researcher did not have adequate data from low and middle-income countries, which could highlight cancer trends over the decades.

The team wants to push forward by better monitoring global trends in the disease, including studies that might follow young children over decades.

Dr. Ugai said: “Without such studies, it’s difficult to identify what someone having cancer now did decades ago or when one was a child.

“Because of this challenge, we aim to run more longitudinal cohort studies in the future where we follow the same cohort of participants over the course of their lives, collecting health data, potentially from electronic health records, and biospecimen at set time points.

“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.”

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