Study: Alarming surge in cancer cases among young adults

A comprehensive study published in BMJ Oncology has revealed a startling 79% surge in new cancer cases among individuals under the age of 50. The research, which analyzed data spanning from 1990 to 2019, raises critical concerns about cancer risk factors and screening practices for young adults.

"The incidence of these cancers in people less than 50 is really causing us to rethink when we get screened. So there's a lot more discussions about if we should be having mammography at an earlier age. We should be having, you know, screening for colorectal cancer at an earlier age, particularly if you're a person of color," said Dr. John Whyte, Chief Medical Officer for WebMD and author of "Take Control of Your Cancer Risk."

Beyond genetics, the study identified lifestyle choices as significant contributors to the surge in cancer cases among those aged 14 to 49. A 'western diet,' characterized by excessive consumption of red meat and salt, emerged as a potential risk factor. Additionally, habits such as alcohol consumption and smoking were flagged as cancer-risk enhancers. 

"It really speaks to the importance of making sure that we are addressing lifestyle factors for everyone, that we're really talking about how crucial these lifestyle factors are in terms of modifying risk," said Dr. Eleanora Teplinsky, head of Breast and Gynecologic Medical Oncology at Valley Health System in New Jersey.

It is noteworthy that this research was conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Otis Brawley, a professor of oncology and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, expressed concerns about potentially more stark findings in recent data. 

"We know that a driver of cancer, indeed what is about to become the most dominant driver of cancer outpacing tobacco is the combination of obesity, consumption of too many calories, and not enough exercise," Brawley said.

According to Brawley, children, teens, and young adults can go a long way toward reducing their cancer risk by eating less and exercising more.