Cancer is becoming a more common tragedy in our world. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 600,000 Americans will die from cancer this year, and almost 2 million new cases will be diagnosed.
A new report by Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that more people under age 50 are being diagnosed with cancer, and the dramatically increasing rate of young people receiving the diagnosis is a possible global epidemic.
Breast, colon, esophagus, kidney, liver, and pancreas cancers have spiked since the 1990s, and the increased risk of early-onset cancer is a generational trend, with researchers observing a birth cohort effect. According to the report, “This so-called birth cohort effect suggests an important role for early-life risk factor exposures for the observed increase in the incidence of early-onset cancers.”
Along with certain hereditary cancer-related genes, researchers say that factors early in life such as diet, lifestyle, obesity, environmental exposures, and the microbiome can have a severe impact on cancer development later in life. “Notably, influences of any of these exposure trends in early life and young adulthood on cancer incidence are unlikely to appear until decades later,” researchers wrote. “Highly processed or westernized foods together with changes in lifestyles, the environment, morbidities, and other factors might all have contributed to such changes in exposures.”
Researchers say raising awareness of early-onset cancer and more detailed investigation using electronic health records can empower the public to be more conscious of early-life factors and their potential for disease.