New Research: Cancer Is Hitting The Young
Mounting rates of cancer among such young people is particularly worrying given that our risk of developing the disease only grows as we age.

Readers of this newsletter, and basically anyone who knows Medix, knows that cancer management is part of our day-to-day life—a big part. In 2023, in about 20 percent of all the cases we managed were in the oncology field with impressive outcomes. In 39.9 percent of those cases we partially or completely change the treatment recommendation, and 5.2 percent of the time we change the diagnosis entirely. In 13.6 percent of cases, we are able to significantly avoid treatment, procedure, or surgery altogether. 

While we pride ourselves on the outcomes in this area, we work hard to remain ahead of the curve, always looking to know more, to do more, and to stay abreast of cutting-edge treatments, technology, data, and research.

study published lately in the JAMA Open Network showed that cancer among young people in the United States is on the increase, most notably, among women between the ages of 30 and 39. Of the early onset cancers, breast cancer was diagnosed the most often, while gastrointestinal cancers were the fastest growing subset of the disease.

Researchers looked at more than 560,000 people in the United States under the age of 50 who had been diagnosed with cancer, an age-group in which cancers are considered to be early onset, between 2010 and 2019. Overall, they found a 0.7 percent increase in the occurrence of the disease. Among 40- to 49-year-olds there was a 6.1 decrease, among 30- to 39-year-olds a 19.4 percent increase, among 20- to 29-year-olds a 5.3 percent increase, and among people under 20 a 5 percent decrease. While those reductions are certainly something to cheer about, the spike in cancers in the 20- to 39-year-old cohort is concerning indeed.

Mounting rates of cancer among such young people is particularly worrying given that our risk of developing the disease only grows as we age.

What’s more, thanks to incredible breakthroughs in treatment, outcomes have improved and people are able to live longer with the disease. With the growing number of cases among young people, cancer may become yet another chronic disease that is a drain on all healthcare systems. We may eventually find ourselves living in a world where cancer begins to catch up with heart disease in terms of the number of people living with it as a chronic condition. No one can afford that.

Men and women were not afflicted equally; the data showed a 4.4 percent increase in the number of cancers diagnosed among women during the period the study looked at, while it showed a 5 percent decrease in the number of men diagnosed.

Some will argue that the growing number of cancers in young people is just because we are doing more early screening, that those cancers have always been there in young people, we just didn’t test for them, and the study didn’t consider the stage of the cancers were diagnosed, so it’s unclear if the increase is due to more cancer or to earlier diagnosis.

At Medix, we don’t believe it is the latter. We believe that we are unfortunately seeing younger people develop cancers, partly because such young cohorts are not likely to get regular screening, and partly because other studies have shown similar trends.

The rate of colorectal cancer in people younger than 55, for example, has doubled over the past thirty years, according to a report from the American Cancer Society.

The researchers publishing in JAMA Open Network couldn’t find a clear reason for the spike in disease but said that it could be due to such factors as obesity, alcohol consumption, smoking, and lack of sleep or exercise. Environmental factors may also be at play, they theorised, such as exposure to pollutants and carcinogens.

Those things surely play a role, but we believe that there are many other aggravating elements as well. Stress, for starters. Younger generations are growing up with decreasing wealth, the threat of climate change, among other factors.

Younger generations are also suffering from increasing rates of depression. One study, published in 2020, showed that nearly one in 10 Americans had suffered from depression in the previous 12 months, and nearly one in five adolescents and young adults. An analysis of federal data found that 50 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 24 had reported depression or anxiety symptoms in February 2023, as had a third of adults overall.

There may well be a link between the high rate of depression and the growing incidence of cancer in young people, whatever the case the world must study these trends further. 

While at this point there are more questions than answers, it is clear all stakeholders involved, governments, pharmaceutical companies, private life and health insurers, healthcare providers, employers, and our societies at large must prepare and plan for a chronic cancer era.

Our future depends on it.

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