A recent study published in BMJ Oncology has highlighted a concerning trend: the rise of cancer among younger people. While cancer has traditionally been more prevalent among older individuals, the analysis of health data shows a significant increase in early-onset cancer cases in people under the age of 50 over the past three decades.
The study revealed that in 2019, there were 1.82 million new cancer diagnoses and 1.06 million deaths from cancer among individuals under 50 globally. These figures represent a 79% increase in diagnoses and a 28% increase in deaths compared to data from 1990.
The research also identified specific types of cancer that experienced the steepest rise between 1990 and 2019. Early-onset cancers of the windpipe and prostate saw the highest increase, estimated to be 2.28% and 2.23% per year, respectively. Breast cancer, the most common type of cancer worldwide excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, accounted for the largest number of cases and associated deaths among younger people.
The study further noted that while early-onset cancer rates were a concern globally, the highest rates of new cases in 2019 were observed in wealthy countries in North America, Western Europe, and Australasia. Conversely, lower-income countries in Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and Oceania experienced disproportionately high death rates.
Looking ahead, researchers predict that new early-onset cancer cases and associated deaths will increase by an additional 31% and 21%, respectively, by 2030. Individuals in their 40s are expected to be the most at risk.
The reasons behind the rise in early-onset cancer cases remain largely unknown. Various factors, including genetic predispositions, exposure to viruses, environmental pollutants, lifestyle changes, and screening improvements, could contribute to the increase. The researchers recommend expanding screening programs, particularly for individuals aged 40 to 49, to help mitigate the future burden on healthcare systems.
In 2020, approximately 10 million people died of cancer worldwide, making it responsible for nearly one in every six deaths. The World Health Organization highlights preventable factors such as tobacco use, high body mass index, alcohol consumption, poor diet, and physical inactivity as significant contributors to cancer-related deaths.
While the rise of cancer among younger people is a cause for concern, further research is needed to fully understand the underlying causes and develop effective prevention and treatment strategies.