Unprecedented rates of cancer in young people puzzle doctors

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The alarming rise in cancer cases under 50 baffles the medical community.

NEW YORK, Jan 14: The incidence of cancer among individuals under the age of 50 is on the rise, leaving medical professionals puzzled about the underlying causes. The death of actor Chadwick Boseman in 2020 from colorectal cancer at the age of 43 served as a stark reminder of a trend that researchers had been warning about for a decade.

Cancer epidemiologist Timothy Rebbeck from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute termed colorectal cancer as the “canary in the coal mine,” signaling a surge in various cancer types, particularly those associated with or in proximity to the gastrointestinal tract, such as appendix, pancreatic, stomach, and uterine cancers.

In recent decades, incidents of colorectal cancer in younger individuals have significantly increased, with one in five new patients diagnosed with this type of cancer in 2019 being below the age of 50, a rate that doubled since 1995 according to the American Cancer Society’s analysis last year.

The changing landscape challenges the traditional notion that cancer is primarily a disease of aging. Monique Gary, the medical director of the cancer program at Pennsylvania’s Grand View Health Center, noted, “We are seeing more and more young people who don’t fit the classic teaching that cancer is a disease of aging.”

A case in point is 27-year-old Meilin Keen, who underwent stomach removal in 2023 due to a gastric cancer diagnosis. Keen’s battle with cancer disrupted her plans of becoming a lawyer and moving to New York City, as the side effects of chemotherapy, including brain fog, forced her to postpone the bar exam.

Cancers related to the gastrointestinal tract, like Keen’s, are appearing more frequently in younger populations, and the reasons behind this trend remain unclear. Speculations range from factors like childhood TV-watching habits to considerations of nutrition, diet, and weight. Some studies even suggest a potential link between being born via caesarian section and the development of young-onset colorectal cancer.

Despite ongoing research, doctors are grappling with the surge in cancer diagnoses among young individuals. The American Cancer Society, in response to this trend, began recommending colon cancer screenings starting at age 45. However, for many, including Keen, this age is still considered too late for timely detection.

Dr. Kimmie Ng of Dana-Farber expressed the urgency of understanding the current situation, stating, “If we’re not understanding what it is now, there’s another whole generation that’s going to be dealing with this.”

This news has been read 871 times!

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