Cancer rates rising in the young obese

Leslie Hanson
February 6, 2019

Yet the study found some of the most significant increases were seen in the millennial age bracket, at a time when "overall cancer incidence is decreasing in males and stabilizing in females in the US", Jemal said. Worryingly, the risk of colorectal, uterine and gallbladder cancers has also doubled for millennials compared to baby boomers when they were the same age. People in the 40 to 44 age bracket only experienced a 0.72 percent increase, according to the study.

On a positive note, the study also found that rates of two non-obesity related cancers, namely gastrointestinal cancer and leukemia, have decreased or stabilized among millenials.

The researchers noted that young adults still have an overall lower risk of developing these cancers, compared with older adults.

"Our findings expose a recent change that could serve as a warning of an increased burden of obesity-related cancers to come in older adults", said co-author Ahmedin Jemal of the American Cancer Society, USA. In some cancers, excess bodyweight during early adulthood could be a more important influence on cancer risk than weight gain in later life [2].

In a sweeping study covering two-thirds of the U.S. population, they showed that half a dozen cancers for which obesity is a known risk factor became more frequent from 1995 to 2015 amongst women and men under 50. He points out that five of the six cancers on the rise in younger adults - colorectal, uterine, gallbladder, kidney and pancreatic cancer - are treated surgically. Still, the ways in which obesity may increase the risk of cancer is unclear, says Stephen Schwartz, PhD, a professor of epidemiology in the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center at the University of Washington in Seattle, who was not involved in the study. Amongst 25 to 29-year-olds, the rate jumped by 4.4 per cent per year.

A sobering analysis of national cancer data shows the rates of six types of cancers related to obesity have increased in younger adults and that the steepest uptick in rates are in successively younger generations. Others studies show the location of fat - such as fat in the abdomen - may impact cancer risk.

Researchers analyzed 20 years of incidence data for 30 cancers - 12 of which are associated with obesity and excess body weight - among adults ages 25 to 84 in 25 states from the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries' Cancer in North America database.

"Shockingly, if the same is happening with cancer in the United States it could already be happening here".

Healthcare providers should be vigilant about screening for and helping patients try to prevent obesity, since the consequences of climbing cancer rates could threaten decades of public health progress, the authors say.

Obesity has already been linked to rising rates of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and knee replacements. The quality of the American diet also has worsened in recent decades.

Currently, less than half of primary care physicians in the U.S. regularly measure the body-mass index (BMI) of their patients. Only a third of people who are obese report receiving a diagnosis or weight loss counselling. The authors suggest that restrictions on advertising calorie-dense food and drinks, taxes on sugary drinks and urban planning that promotes physical activity could be effective strategies to stem the emerging trend.

The younger the age bracket, the more quickly these cancers gained ground, they reported in The Lancet, a medical journal. However, screening is less common in younger adults, while increases in cancer incidence were still greater. The study does not provide evidence of a causal relationship between obesity and cancer. Additional experimental and population-based studies will be needed to test the hypothesis more directly. They looked at 30 types of cancers, including 12 that are considered obesity-related.

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