There has been an almost 80 percent increase in cancer diagnoses among individuals aged below 50 years in the last three decades, a new study has revealed.
The study, published in BMJ Oncology journal on Wednesday, exposes the alarming rise in early-onset cancer cases, underscoring the need for further investigation and preventive measures.
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It encompasses data from 204 countries, spanning 29 types of cancer, and delves into new cases, deaths, health implications, and contributing risk factors for those aged 14 to 49, measuring changes between 1990 and 2019.
Between 1990 and 2019, the global incidence of early-onset cancer climbed from 1.82 million cases to a staggering 3.26 million. The mortality rate for adults in their 40s, 30s, or younger increased by 27 percent, resulting in more than a million patients below 50 succumbing to cancer each year.
“What we know so far is that the numbers are due to an increase in [world] population, screening, and technology but also due to lifestyle factors – smoking, alcohol, obesity, lack of exercise and lack of fresh fruits and vegetables,” Sayed Ali, an oncologist at the St John of God Subiaco Hospital in Perth, told Al Jazeera.
Ali explained that addressing lifestyle factors was vital to addressing the rise in cancer cases worldwide, specifically among the young.
Lifestyle major risk factor
Unravelling the precise causes behind this surge remains a complex challenge for experts.
Factors such as poor dietary habits, tobacco and alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, and obesity are thought to contribute to this disconcerting trend.
The data indicated that diets high in red meat and salt, low in fruits and dairy, along with tobacco and alcohol use, are the primary risk factors for the most common cancers among those below 50.
Physical inactivity, excess weight, and high blood sugar also contribute to the pattern.
“Since 1990, the incidence and deaths of early onset cancers have substantially increased globally,” the report said.
“Encouraging a healthy lifestyle, including a healthy diet, the restriction of tobacco and alcohol consumption and appropriate outdoor activity could reduce the burden of early onset cancer.”
Types of cancers
Breast cancer accounted for the highest number of cases and related deaths, with 13.7 and 3.5 occurrences per 100,000 of the global population, respectively.
Windpipe and prostate cancers saw the most rapid increases in early onset cases, with estimated annual percentage changes of 2.28 percent and 2.23 percent, respectively.
In contrast, early-onset liver cancer cases decreased by approximately 2.88 percent annually.
In 2019, a total of 1.06 million individuals below 50 lost their lives to cancer, representing a 27 percent increase from 1990 statistics.
Apart from breast cancer, windpipe, lung, stomach, and bowel cancers were among the deadliest.
Notably, the steepest rise in deaths occurred in individuals with kidney or ovarian cancer.
Regional, income-based distribution
The regions most affected by early-onset cancers in 2019 included North America, Oceania, and Western Europe.
However, low- and middle-income countries were not immune to this trend, with the highest death rates among those below 50 observed in Oceania, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia.
Particularly in low- and middle-income nations, early-onset cancer had a more profound effect on women in terms of health deterioration and mortality.