Cancer rates are increasing for those under 50

The rise has been observed over the last three decades.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Representational image of a cancer patient.jpg
Representational image of a cancer patient.


In recent years, reports of some types of cancer becoming increasingly prevalent among people in the under-50 age group have raised concerns about the incidence rates of cancer in young people.

A study published in July of 2021, revealed an increase of more than 50 percent since the 1990s for colorectal cancer among adults younger than 50. Meanwhile, research published in September of 2022 found that those under 50 were becoming increasingly more prone to having 14 different types of cancer since around 1990. This effect was present worldwide.

New report, same findings

Now, a new study has surfaced again indicating that the under-50 group has seen a rise in cancer cases in the last three decades, with 1.82 million new diagnoses reported in 2019 alone. The study, published in BMJ Oncology, found this fact was valid for 29 types of cancers, including breast, kidney and ovarian cancer.

"Global incidence of early-onset cancer increased by 79.1 percent and the number of early-onset cancer deaths increased by 27.7 percent between 1990 and 2019," wrote the authors in their introduction.

The rise was noticed around the world with the data indicating that the most new cases were found in North America, Western Europe and Australasia while the most deaths occurred in Central Asia, Eastern Europe and Oceania. 

There could be several factors contributing to this rise. Changes in environmental factors caused by global warming, including exposure to carcinogens such as pollutants, could be responsible.

Secondly, people around the globe are gaining weight, with obese individuals rising in numbers. Obesity is a known risk factor for several types of cancer, including colorectal, post-menopausal breast, and endometrial cancers.

Third, people are having children later in life in many developed countries. Delayed childbearing may contribute to an increased risk of certain cancers, such as breast and ovarian cancer.

Fourth, certain forms of cancer may also be influenced by hormonal changes brought on by the use of hormone replacement therapies which have become more popular with time.

Finally, it could also be that more cancer cases are simply being diagnosed. Advances in medical technology and increased awareness of cancer symptoms have made great strides, leading to more diagnoses.

Preventing cancer

The authors of the study did have some tips on preventing more cancer cases. “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. It is worth exploring whether early screening and prevention programmes for early-onset cancer should be expanded to include individuals aged 40–44 and 45–49,” they wrote in their conclusion.

The study highlights the need for ongoing research to better understand the factors contributing to the rise in cancer rates among young people and to develop strategies for cancer prevention in this age group.

This step is crucial to ensuring our future generations have long and healthy lives. Cancer is a debilitating disease, and despite researchers working on cures for decades, it is still responsible for taking many lives. As such, prevention is key.

Study abstract:

This study aimed to explore the global burden of early-onset cancer based on the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) 2019 study for 29 cancers worldwide.