Millenials and cancer

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On February 04, 2019, the Lancet Public Health journal published a research study containing alarming results, especially for young people / millennials (1).

After more than 2 billion person-years of observation, the researchers concluded that the rates of various cancers are going up. This is concerning but probably does not come as much of a surprise to many of us. However, the really concerning finding was that the incidence is going up more in younger people, particularly those in the millennial generation. Between 1995 to 2014, the incidence of the following cancers increased in younger adults:

  • multiple myeloma

  • colorectal

  • uterine corpus

  • gallbladder

  • kidney

  • thyroid

  • pancreatic


The worst news is that the magnitude of the increase was steeper as the age got younger. For example, consider this graph for pancreatic cancer. Notice that the percent increase is highest among the younger people.

Percent change in Pancreatic cancer incidence


In fact, incidence of cancers of the kidneys , gallbladder , corpus uteri, and colorectum, increased the most in the 25 to 29 age group. Multiple myeloma’s incidence rate rose the most among the 30 to 34 year olds. Incidences of gastric non-cardia cancer and leukemia rose in the young adults as well.


The percent change in the incidences of gallbladder, kidney, and multiple myeloma also increased among adults 50 years of age and older, BUT the magnitude of the increase was LESS than the increase seen in the younger adults.

What could explain this? Well, the researchers suspect that a potential link could be the rise in obesity among the younger people in the United States. Obesity has risen by more than 100% since 1980 among children and adolescents, and 60% among adults. Excess weight seems to accelerate cancer progression.

Conclusion

Type 2 diabetes was once seen as an older person’s disease. But that is no longer the case as younger people are getting type 2 diabetes. In the same sense, this report warns us that a similar pattern may emerge with cancer. Cancer is usually viewed as a disease of older age, but it looks like things are shifting.

Reports like these gives us all-the-more reason to take our lifestyle more seriously. Physical activity, whole foods plant-based eating, weight regulation, stress management, abstinence from alcohol, etc are lifestyle habits we should consider adopting in earnest.


Reference

Sung, H et al. Emerging cancer trends among young adults in the USA: analysis of a population-based cancer registry. Lancet Public Health. (2019); DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S2468 - 2667 (18):30267-6

George Cho