Cancers in adults under 50 years of age have been on the rise in recent decades. This drastic rise in early-onset cancers, which are diagnosed before age 50, began around 1990, a new study reports. Early-onset cancers include cancers of the breast, colon, oesophagus, liver, kidney, pancreas, endometrium, colorectum, gallbladder, head, neck, bone marrow, thyroid, stomach, and prostate, among others.
Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, conducted extensive analyses of data on cancers, including information on early life exposures that might have contributed to the early-onset cancer epidemic. Using this information, the researchers tried to understand why many more younger individuals are being diagnosed with cancer.
The study describing the findings was recently published in the journal Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology.
Why Are Cancers In Adults Under 50 On The Rise?
There is a dramatic increase in cancer cases in adults under 50 years of age. Some of the potential reasons include increased use of screening programmes, sleep deprivation, changes in lifestyle, diet, environment, obesity, and increased consumption of processed foods, among others.
Increased Use Of Cancer Screening Programmes
To a certain extent, increased use of screening programmes has contributed to the rise in cancer cases among adults aged below 50 years of age, the study states. This is because cancer screening programmes allow the early detection of certain cancer types.
Risk Factor Exposures In Early Life
Risk factor exposures in early life and young adulthood also play a role in this trend. Some of the risk factors for early-onset cancer include alcohol consumption, sleep deprivation, smoking, eating foods, and obesity.
Adult sleep deprivation has not drastically changed over the past several decades. However, children are getting far less sleep today than they were getting decades ago.
Since the 1950s, risk factors such as highly-processed foods, sugary beverages, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, type 2 diabetes, and alcohol consumption have significantly increased. These risk factors result in an altered microbiome.
Changes In Lifestyle, Diet, Environment
Substantial multigenerational changes in the exposome have occurred since the mid-20th century. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the exposome is defined as the measure of all exposures of an individual in a lifetime and how these exposures relate to health.
Changes that have occurred in the exposome include changes in diet, lifestyle, environment, obesity, and the microbiome. All these factors might interact with genetic susceptibilities. However, the effects of individual exposures remain largely unknown, the authors note in the study.
The researchers hypothesised that factors like the westernised diet and lifestyle may be contributing to the early-onset cancer epidemic.
How Can The Burden Of Early-Onset Cancers Be Reduced?
The early-onset cancer epidemic is representative of increasing trends in the development of many chronic diseases in young and future generations, the study states.
It is important to raise awareness about the early-onset cancer epidemic among both the public and health-care professionals, the authors suggest.
They also note that improving the early-life environment should be our immediate goals. These steps are likely to reduce the burden of both early-onset and later-onset cancers.
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