More people under-50s get cancer, study shows

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New research published in BMJ Oncology reveals a shocking 79% rise in new cases of cancer among people under 50 across the globe over the last three decades (1990–2019).

While cancer is generally more common among older individuals, this new data challenges traditional thinking about which age groups are most affected by certain types of cancer.

In 2019 alone, 1.82 million new cases were diagnosed in this age group, and more than 1 million people under 50 died from cancer.

Changing Landscape of Cancer Types

Breast cancer is the most common among the under-50s, but rates of windpipe and prostate cancer have risen the fastest since 1990. On the flip side, early onset liver cancer has been decreasing.

Deaths and poor health outcomes after diagnosis were highest for breast, windpipe, lung, stomach, and bowel cancers. Interestingly, death rates have increased most steeply for those with kidney or ovarian cancer.

The research also pointed out geographical variations. North America, Australasia, and Western Europe had the highest rates of early onset cancers in 2019.

However, low to middle-income countries aren’t spared either, with the highest death rates found in places like Oceania, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. In these lower-income countries, women are more severely affected than men.

Why Is This Happening?

Though the data paints a concerning picture, the underlying reasons are complex. Factors like genetics likely play a role, but lifestyle choices appear to be significant contributors.

Diets high in red meat and salt but low in fruits and milk, alcohol consumption, and smoking are all major risk factors. Physical inactivity, being overweight, and high blood sugar also contribute.

The study does have limitations. The quality of cancer data varies from country to country, potentially leading to under-reporting.

Furthermore, the influence of factors like early life exposure to pollution or specific screening methods is not entirely understood.

What Needs to Be Done

Looking ahead, the researchers estimate that by 2030, the global number of new early onset cancer cases and associated deaths will increase by 31% and 21%, respectively.

This emphasizes an urgent need for prevention and early detection strategies tailored to younger patients.

Doctors from Queen’s University Belfast point out that our understanding of this alarming trend is still incomplete. Lifestyle changes are likely a contributing factor, but other areas such as antibiotic use, gut health, and pollution are still under study.

They stress that a collective, global effort is needed to tackle this rising concern effectively, focusing not just on optimal treatment but also on supportive care for these younger patients.

In summary, the surge in cancer cases among the under-50s is a disturbing trend that demands immediate attention from the global health community.

A holistic approach, combining prevention, early detection, and optimized treatment, is urgently needed to reverse these rising numbers and safeguard the health of younger populations worldwide.

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The research findings can be found in BMJ Oncology.

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