Cancer is Rising in Under 50-Year-Olds Worldwide. Here’s Why
First, we learned that US life expectancy just got shorter for the second year in a row, from a high of 78.9 years in 2019 to just 76.1 years if you are born today. It would seem obvious to chalk that up to a worldwide pandemic that overwhelmed our health systems and killed over 1 million in the US and over 600 million people worldwide. But that shouldn't affect the life expectancy of a baby born today.
Life expectancy, after all, projects how long a newborn should be expected to live from this day forward. What is happening, and what is going to impact that baby, according to one new study, is that we are witnessing a new "global epidemic" driven by a dramatic rise in early-onset cancer diagnoses in people under 50.
As the cancer rates rise in younger people, there is one main culprit to blame: The Standard American Diet, also known around the world as the "Western Diet" full of processed carbs, added sugar, red meat, unhealthy fat, and fried food – while being largely devoid of plant foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes, nuts and seeds, all high in fiber, heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and especially antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that help the body fight and halt cancer in its tracks.
So why is cancer coming for us now? In short, it's because of our crappy diets.
Cancer is the Second Leading Cause of Death Globally
According to the World Health Organization, cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for an estimated 9.6 million deaths, or one in six, up until the years before the pandemic, or 2018. The most common types of cancer in men are lung, prostate, colorectal, stomach, and liver cancer, and the most prevalent cancers for women are breast, colorectal, lung, cervical, and thyroid cancer. Many of these, if caught early, are treatable.
Cancer is characterized by the overgrowth of cells caused by runaway cellular division in an organ of the body. Any part of the body can become a host for cancer cells, which if allowed to grow undetected and not swept away by the body's powerful immune system, may form tumors in that organ, where cancer is best treated by medical interventions. Once cancer cells manage to travel through the bloodstream and take up residence in other parts of the body it is harder to treat to a cure.
More men than women get cancer in their lifetime, according to the National Cancer Institute. Men have a one in two chance of being diagnosed with cancer during their lifetimes, whereas for women, the chance is one in three. Possible reasons are that men are more likely to smoke, drink more alcohol, and eat considerably more red meat and processed meat than women do, according to studies.
Consuming meat has been linked to cancer and a diet high in red meat and processed meat increases colon cancer risk by 29 percent. The WHO categorizes red and processed meat as a carcinogen, meaning it causes cancer in those who eat it regularly.
Worldwide Cancer Diagnosis Shifts Younger
Every decade more people under the age of 50 are being diagnosed with cancer, and the "early onset cancer" statistics keep climbing by the decade, according to a new study published in Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology entitled: "Is early-onset cancer an emerging global epidemic? Current evidence and future implications"
The study found that over the past several decades, the incidence of early-onset cancers, (those diagnosed in adults under 50 years of age), is up in these types of cancer:
- bile duct
- head & neck
- bone marrow
One factor is the increased use of early screening for cancer at a younger age, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, since doctors know that detecting early cancer or precancerous polyps in the colon, for example, can be a lifesaver when treated or removed before these can grow into full-blown cancer and leave the colon for other areas of the body.
Western Diet is Linked to Cancer
But the biggest change in the past 40 years and before, dating back to the mid-20th century, when cancer was rarer in younger people, is the significant shift in diet and lifestyle habits, the study authors wrote. The Western Diet is especially unhealthy, and younger people are eating more fast food and fewer fruits and vegetables than ever, leaving them vulnerable to cancer earlier than their parents, the study suggests.
"Changes in diet, lifestyle, obesity, environment, and the microbiome," are the biggest risk factor, they explain, since "all of which might interact with genomic and/or genetic susceptibilities." They suggest that the next important step is to study "early-life exposures" to things like the Western Diet, obesity, "and their implications for multiple cancer types."
The authors urged awareness among the public and also health care professionals that this growing cancer epidemic would have vast implications for health care and life expectancy. We all need to be more aware of these rising cancer rates in young people and take seriously any possible prevention and diagnosis steps to help save lives.
The burden is on us to reduce the number of cancer deaths, according to the authors, because other communicable diseases will continue to threaten young people, while lifestyle choices such as better diet and increased daily. exercise can help stem the tide of an early-onset cancer diagnosis.
Cancer is Linked to Obesity
In a shocking development doctors and researchers have linked cancer to obesity, and the American Cancer Society has an entire section of its website that shows that there are at least 13 types of cancer that are linked to obesity. Most of these have to do with the digestive system, and the role of diet has been associated with cancers in study after study of late.
The doctor and author Dr. Jason Fung, who wrote The Cancer Code, has decades of research to back up the link between diet and cancer. He explains in his book that the link is direct and relates to how growth hormones such as insulin tell cells to grow. When we eat, the insulin goes up signaling the cells to grow. That includes cancer cells, he explains.
When someone eats less or intermittent fasts, he explains, insulin remains low and the body's cells are allowed to do the important housework of autophagy, which is essentially sweeping out dead cells, particles of viruses, and other unwanted or unneeded substances and toxins that make their way into our systems through air pollution or food or the environment.
In women,11 percent of all cancers are linked to obesity, according to the American Cancer Society, and 5 percent of cancers in men. Those cancers linked to obesity are:
- Breast cancer (in post-menopausal women)
- Colon and rectal cancer
- Endometrial cancer (cancer of the lining of the uterus)
- Esophagus cancer
- Gallbladder cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Pancreas cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Thyroid cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Meningioma (a tumor of the lining of the brain and spinal cord)
The ACS adds that being overweight or obese might also raise the risk of other cancers, such as:
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Male breast cancer
- Cancers of the mouth, throat, and voice box
- Aggressive forms of prostate cancer
Being overweight during childhood and young adulthood might be more of a risk factor than gaining weight later in life for some cancers, according to the ACS. This is also the finding of the recent study on early-onset cancer, which points to risk factors such as poor diet early in life.
Your Cancer Risk Depends on Your Age
The study looked at people born 50 years ago or more recently and found higher rates of early-onset cancer diagnosis than among people born more than 50 years ago. So essentially that means people born in 1970 have a greater chance of early-onset cancer than those born in the 1960s, and people born in the 1980s have an even greater chance of early-onset cancer diagnosis than those born in the 1970s and so on.
The researchers were especially alarmed that the age of diagnosis is creeping younger, and they offered up possible explanations for the shift, starting with the Western Diet, but including low activity rates and a sedentary lifestyle early in life. Other possible culprits are increasing alcohol consumption, the continuation of smoking habits, and even having babies later in life.
The Causes Started in the Mid-20th Century
The authors write that the stage was set early for this type of increase in cancer among younger people since their entire lives they have eaten highly processed foods that are calorie dense and nutrient-poor. Meanwhile, their lifestyles have gotten more sedentary and their exposure to environmental risks has increased (including toxins and pollutants in the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the food they eat).
All these factors and their effects have taken time to accumulate, but now scientists can see a clear rise in impact on the population in the growth of early-onset cancer since the 1990s. The lifestyle factors that they have identified as potentially increasing cancer risk include:
- The Western Diet, high in saturated fats, red meat, processed meat, sugar, and ultra-processed foods, and low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fiber
- Lower breastfeeding rates and increased formula milk consumption
- Increased alcohol consumption
- Smoking habits, including second-hand smoke or in-utero exposure
- Reduced sleep among children due to bright light and blue light
- Night shift work, which contributes to obesity and type 2 diabetes
- Reproductive factors: younger menstruation, fewer births, starting having babies later
- Physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyle
- Increased rates of type 2 diabetes
Among the 14 cancers found to be rising among under 50-year-olds, most relate to the digestive system, which makes clear the importance of a healthy plant-based diet that contributes to a healthy and balanced gut microbiome as one way to lower cancer risk.
Bottom Line: Cancer is Rising in Under 50-Year-Olds Worldwide. Here's Why
Cancer cases are rising in people under 50 worldwide and researchers believe that the biggest reason is the Western Diet high. in processed foods and red meat, which leads to obesity and other risk factors.