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A recent study published in Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology says that cases of cancer (including of the breast, colon, esophagus, and more) have been increasing since 1990.
Researchers believe this increase in cancer risk is related to shifts in diet, lifestyle habits, weight, environmental exposures, and gut health.
Incidence of some cancers is declining for older people—colorectal cancer, most notably. But there’s a troubling trend for those who are under age 50: higher cancer prevalence. And it’s possible that the younger you are, the higher your risk might be.
A recent study published in Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology notes that a dramatic rise in cancers of the breast, colon, esophagus, kidney, liver, and pancreas began in about 1990 and has continued to be a concern since then.
Analyzing data on cancer diagnoses and patient ages, researchers found that each decade brings higher risk of developing cancer later in life. For example, those born in 1960 had a higher incidence of cancer at age 50 than those born in 1950 when they turned 50. And those born in 1970 had higher risk than those in a 1960 birth cohort.
In reviewing the data, researchers hypothesized that the rise in early-onset cancer may be related to shifts in what’s called the exposome, which is comprised of diet, lifestyle habits, weight, environmental exposures, and gut health. All of these have seen substantial changes over the last several decades and each has independently been linked to cancer outcomes, according to study co-author Shuji Ogino, M.D., Ph.D., researcher in the department of pathology at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
“At both the individual and societal level, there are many recommendations we can take from this in terms of cancer prevention for younger people,” he told Bicycling. These include pursuing regular exercise, avoiding sugar and highly processed foods, reducing alcohol, maintaining good oral hygiene, practicing beneficial sleep habits, getting appropriate vaccinations—especially for cancer-causing microorganisms like HPV—and not smoking. People need to start all of these habits as early as possible,” said Ogino.
Starting these habits early doesn’t mean in your 30s, Ogino added. It’s more like your toddler days. “The early-onset cancer epidemic is due to what foods, environment, and lifestyle habits we received as children,” he said. “Cancer risks of our children and future generations depend on us. We think it’s possible to reverse this trend, but we need a lot of effort.”
While we don’t have a time machine to tweak your childhood habits, It’s not too late to start lowering your risk. And a good starting point is getting regular exercise, lead author Tomotaka Ugai, M.D., Ph.D., also in the department of pathology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told Bicycling.
“We believe that physical inactivity has a big impact on the rise of early-onset cancers, and previous studies clearly show that sedentary behavior is associated with increased risk,” he said, adding that the risk could be more significant with other risks stacked on top of inactivity, such as poor sleep, pollution effects, and regular consumption of highly processed food.
Adopting healthy habits—and especially encouraging kids and teens to do the same—could go a long way toward changing the early-onset cancer trend.
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