Cancer in Under-50s Is Up 79% Since 1990

Poor diets, lack of exercise may be partly to blame, researchers say
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 6, 2023 2:40 PM CDT
Cancer Cases Are Rising in People Under 50
The researchers said better cancer screening should be considered for people 40 to 49.   (Getty Images/Chinnapong)

The number of cancer cases in people under 50 has surged almost 80% in three decades, and it's not entirely clear why, researchers say. According to a study published in the journal BMJ Oncology, some 3.26 million people under 50 worldwide were diagnosed with cancer in 2019, an increase of 79% from 1990, the Guardian reports. Breast cancer was the most common form of early onset cancer—with "early onset" defined as cancer in somebody under 50—while early onset windpipe and prostate cancers saw the biggest rise in the years covered in the study. Breast cancer also caused the most cancer deaths in under-50s, followed by windpipe, lung, stomach, and bowel cancers.

The researchers used the Global Burden of Disease dataset, which has data from 204 countries. They said alcohol and tobacco use probably contributed to the rise in early onset cancers, along with factors including obesity and a lack of exercise. "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," they wrote. They said more research is needed for a "full understanding" of the trend. People 40 to 49 are at greatest risk of early onset cancer, researchers said. "Consideration of targeted early detection measures for this age group ... should be considered," they wrote.

The research did not, however, take into account a 40% rise in the world population since 1990, and it's not clear how much of a role better detection and reporting played in the rise in cases recorded, the BBC notes. "Previous reports have shown that globally, since the 1990s, there has been an increase in cancer incidence rates in the under 50s and a decrease in mortality rates, meaning more people under 50 are surviving their cancers, likely due to improvements in early detection and treatments," says Montserrat García-Closas at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, per CNN. (More cancer stories.)

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