Cancer more likely to affect younger people now: These are potential causes

The early-life exposome, which includes one's nutrition, lifestyle, weight, environmental exposures, and microbiota, has seen significant change in recent decades

Scientists undertook thorough studies of accessible data in the literature and online to explain why many younger people are now being diagnosed with cancer.

Younger people are now more likely to develop cancer, a new study has revealed. Early-onset cancers, or those identified before the age of 50, had dramatically increased globally since 1990, Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers discovered. These cancers include kidney, liver, pancreatic, breast, colon, esophageal and colon cancers. The study’s conclusions were published in Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology.

Alcohol intake, sleep deprivation, smoking, obesity, and consuming highly processed foods were all potential risk factors for early-onset cancer. Surprisingly, researchers discovered that youngsters are getting far less sleep now than they did decades ago despite the fact that adult sleep length hasn’t changed significantly over the years.

The early-life exposure, which includes one’s nutrition, lifestyle, weight, environmental exposures, and micro biota, has seen significant change in recent decades, according to a thorough assessment conducted by the researchers. The westernized food and lifestyle were therefore put out as potential contributors to the early-onset cancer epidemic.

Since the 1950s, there has been a dramatic rise in risk factors such highly processed meals, sugary drinks, obesity, type 2 diabetes, sedentary lifestyles, and alcohol usage, which experts believe has coincided with changing microbiomes.

In an attempt to understand why so many younger people are getting cancer diagnoses, researchers conducted extensive analyses of the data that was readily available in the literature and online, including details on early life exposures that may have contributed to this trend.

The team came to the conclusion that some of this increase in the incidence of some cancer forms can be attributed to early diagnosis through cancer screening programmes. It is impossible to determine with accuracy whether proportion of the increased prevalence may be entirely due to screening and early detection. They did, however, point out that it is doubtful that greater screening will be the main cause of a rise in the incidence of many of the 14 cancer types.

Researchers blame the “birth cohort effect”, which indicates that each subsequent group of people born later has a higher risk of developing cancer later in life, probably as a result of risk factors they were exposed to at a young age, according to Shuji Ogino, MD, PhD, a professor and physician-scientist in the Department of Pathology at the Brigham.

According to Ogino, it was discovered that the risk had been rising with each successive generation. Compared to those born in 1950, those born in 1960 had a greater risk of developing cancer before turning 50. This danger level is expected to increase over the course of subsequent generations.

“Among the 14 cancer types on the rise that we studied, eight were related to the digestive system. The food we eat feeds the microorganisms in our gut,” said Ugai. “Diet directly affects microbiome composition and eventually these changes can influence disease risk and outcomes.”

However, there was not enough information available from low- and middle-income nations to determine long-term patterns in cancer incidence.

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