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Cancer Rates

Why Are Cancer Rates Rising in Younger People?

May 23, 2023

Recently, cancer rates have been on the rise in individuals under the age of 50. This is caused to a number of things, but can usually be prevented.

Young cancer patient smiling after chemotherapy
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In recent years, there has been a concerning increase in cancer rates, particularly among younger individuals under 50. A study conducted by researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital found that the incidence of early-onset cancers, including breast, colon, esophagus, kidney, liver and pancreas, has risen significantly since around 1990.

So, why are cancer rates rising in younger people? Well, the reason isn’t clear-cut or straightforward. However, dietary, lifestyle and environmental factors that influence the risk of cancer may have changed over the years.

Although cancer can be difficult to talk about and understand, it’s important to increase awareness about increased cancer rates. Early detection and prompt treatment are key in addressing cancer and could potentially save lives. Here we’ll explore the reasons behind the increase in cancer rates and potential ways to reduce the risk of certain cancers.

Potential Reasons for Cancer Rates Rising in Younger People

There are various factors contributing to the rise in cancer rates among younger people. One major factor is the increase in unhealthy lifestyle choices since the 1950s, such as the consumption of highly processed foods, sugary beverages and alcohol. These dietary changes, in combination with more sedentary lifestyles, have also led to an increase in obesity and type 2 diabetes rates.

Research suggests that among 14 cancer types on the rise, eight are related to the digestive system. This is likely due to the food consumed feeding microorganisms in the gut, which can lead to changes in our microbiome. As the microbiome may play a role in our immunity, the food we eat may be affecting the increased rates of certain cancers.

Environmental factors can also contribute to early-onset cancer rates, such as exposure to environmental toxins, pollutants or radiation. For example, organic compounds in indoor air and water may be contributing to a rise in leukemia and lymphoma, among other types of cancer.

Risk Factors for Cancer in People Under 50

The risk factors for cancer in younger people can vary. How these risk factors affect cancer risk is still being studied. Some common risk factors for cancer may include:

  • Obesity or overweight
  • Chronic sleep deprivation
  • Western diet
  • Smoking
  • Overconsumption of alcohol
  • Use of oral contraceptives
  • Delayed childbearing
  • Early onset of menstruation
  • Decreased breast-feeding and increased formula use

Many of the risk factors for cancer are entirely preventable. Being aware of these risk factors and making informed lifestyle choices may be key to reducing cancer rates.

Prevention Strategies for Reducing Cancer Rates in Younger People

Younger people can take steps to prevent cancer. By adopting healthy habits early in life, individuals can reduce their risk of developing this disease. Here are some practical strategies to consider:

  • Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Engage in regular physical activity
  • Get vaccinated, such as the HPV vaccine
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Avoid tobacco use

You can take control of several areas of your life that may contribute to your risk of cancer. A healthy lifestyle could mean the difference between rising cancer rates and keeping cancer risks at bay.

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