In a study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, scientists found that the incidence of early onset cancers (those diagnosed before age 50), including cancers of the breast, colon, esophagus, kidney, liver, and pancreas among others, has dramatically increased around the world, with this drastic rise beginning around 1990.
They conducted extensive analyses of available data in the literature and online, including information on early life exposures that might have contributed to this trend.
The team found 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.
They 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 team first analyzed global data describing the incidence of 14 different cancer types that showed increased incidence in adults before age 50 from 2000 to 2012.
Then, they searched for available studies that examined trends of possible risk factors including early life exposures in the general population.
Finally, the team examined the literature describing clinical and biological tumor characteristics of early-onset cancers compared to later-onset cancers diagnosed after age 50.
The team found that the early life exposome, which encompasses one’s diet, lifestyle, weight, environmental exposures, and microbiome, has changed substantially in the last several decades.
Thus, they hypothesized that factors like the westernized diet and lifestyle may be contributing to the early-onset cancer epidemic.
Possible risk factors for early-onset cancer included alcohol drinking, sleep loss, smoking, obesity, and eating highly processed foods.
Surprisingly, researchers found that while adult sleep duration hasn’t drastically changed over several decades, children are getting far less sleep today than they were decades ago.
Risk factors such as highly-processed foods, sugary beverages, obesity, type 2 diabetes, sedentary lifestyle, and alcohol consumption have all strongly increased since the 1950s, which researchers speculate has been accompanied by altered gut microbiomes.
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The study was conducted by Shuji Ogino et al and published in Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology.
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