Cancer among adults under 50 have become more rampant since the 1990, according to a new study published in Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology.
The idea that cancer rates are rising in contemporary society is not new. Researchers are already aware that the number of patients who suffer late-onset cancer-that is, cancer that manifests after age 50-has increased during the 1940s and 1950s.
However, the team was more interested in determining whether the rate of cancer in those under the age of 50 or early-onset cancer, was rising as well. To do this, they had to look at persons born in the 1950s and 1960s, but they had to look at the incidence of cancer starting in the 1990s.
What's alarming is that the rise in early-onset malignancies doesn't appear to be slowing down, and advancements in screening don't seem to be enough to fully account for the trend.
"We found that this risk is increasing with each generation," one of the researchers, Shuji Ogino, a pathologist and epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston said.
"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."
Breast, colorectal (CRC), endometrial, esophageal, extrahepatic bile duct, gallbladder, head and neck, kidney, liver, bone marrow, pancreas, stomach, and thyroid cancer were among the 14 cancer types that were the subject of the study.
According to data on cancer worldwide, all of these diseases increased among adults under 50 between 2000 and 2012. The researchers went a step further, though, and looked at all of the studies that were out there that might have some insight into potential risk factors for these tumors.
In addition, they sought any specific clinical and molecular traits that early-onset cancer tumors might have in comparison to those of late-onset malignancies, which are identified after age 50.
The researchers set out to determine whether early-onset cancer was an epidemic that was spreading across the world, and their findings indicate that it is. Since the 1990s, at least, it appears that this is the case.
"The incidence of later-onset CRC (in those born in the late 19th and early 20th centuries) started to increase in the 1950s whereas that of early-onset CRC (in those born in the mid-20th century) did not start to increase until the early 1990s," the researchers write.
It's no secret that a lot has changed in our lives since then, especially with the introduction of highly processed foods, and the signs point to a possible interaction between diet, lifestyle, weight, and exposure to the environment.