Cancer is a terrible diagnosis to receive at any age, but a recent study’s discovery of an apparent increase in the incidence of the disease among young adults raises a troubling conundrum that epidemiologists are especially eager to explain.
Researchers have been tracking this troubling trend for a while, but they must continue to monitor the data to determine whether anything has changed for the better or the worse.
Adults under the age of 50 have developed cancer more frequently starting in the 1990s, according to an assessment of three decades’ worth of global cancer data published last year.
The National University of Singapore’s Benjamin Koh, a physician-scientist, and his associates sought to comprehend what had lately occurred, particularly in the United States. Their latest analysis’ findings confirm global shifts.
We need to know which malignancies are affecting who and how, as research suggests that young adult cancers differ from the types of tumors affecting the same organs in older persons. These variances affect treatment possibilities.
In addition to global patterns, information on particular populations can help determine the priorities for research funding and public health strategies. Age continues to be the key risk factor for cancer, a genetically mutated disease.
Health professionals are unsure of what is happening in younger age groups, though, at the moment.
A number of factors, including changing diets, lifestyles, and sleep patterns; rising obesity; increased use of antibiotics; and air pollution, may be to blame for the rising rates of young adult cancers in many nations, but especially in the US.
The fact that cancer screening programs are identifying more malignancies, ideally earlier, but vaccination programs are also preventing them makes it difficult to identify trends.
However, the 2022 international study reveals that, in addition to expanded screening programs—which hardly ever include persons under 50 anyway—the rate of early-onset malignancies has increased.
Although the influence of these programs was not taken into consideration in this current study, it has nonetheless offered an updated, thorough summary of the US cancer rates among those under 50 between 2010 and 2019.
In 17 connected data registries that track new cancer diagnoses in various regions of the US, Koh and colleagues found a total of 562,145 young adults. Using these information, they estimated incidence rates for the entire population over the ten years through 2019.
New cases that are identified in a population over time are referred to as incidence.
In general, the rate of cancer in people under 50 increased, with 3 more cases per 100,000 people diagnosed in 2019 compared to 2010.
It is more illuminating to examine specific age groups and the prevalence of certain cancer kinds, as this suggests underlying risk factors that may be a cause in the rising cancer burden.
In their recently published research, Koh and colleagues note that among all early-onset tumors, gastrointestinal cancers had the fastest-growing incidence rates.
Bowel cancer, the most prevalent type of gastrointestinal cancer among young adults in 2019, as well as pancreatic, bile duct, and appendix cancers, all of which had an increase in incidence during the study’s ten-year period, were also included.
Ages 30 to 39, when one may assume they are in the prime of their existence, are also increasingly impacted by cancer. While cancer incidence either stayed stable or decreased in older persons, it increased in this age range for all malignancies, but mainly for gastrointestinal cancers.
The findings of the 2022 international study, current data from Australia, and other studies spanning several continents are reflected in the rising burden of gastrointestinal malignancies. Ultra-processed food consumption may be a contributing factor.
Of course, the quality of these research depends on the data they have access to, so the conclusions may not be comprehensive.
Koh and colleagues conclude that “there may have been underreporting or underdiagnosis among underserved populations, such as Black individuals; thus, these results require cautious interpretation.”
The study has been published in JAMA Network Open.