Cancer rates rising in the young obese

Alicia Farmer
February 6, 2019

Rates for six of 12 cancers related to obesity have been increasing in successive generations of young adults, with the sharpest increases in the youngest age groups, researchers report in The Lancet Public Health.

Cancers related to obesity are on a steep rise among millennials, a new study by the American Society has found. Researchers warned that in six out of 12 obesity-related cancers (colorectal, uterine, gallbladder, kidney, pancreatic, and multiple myeloma), the number of cases went up in people under the age of 50.

"The future burden of these cancers might be exacerbated as younger cohorts age, potentially halting or reversing the progress achieved in reducing cancer mortality over the past several decades", the authors write.

"Health professionals, especially primary care physician, should increase obesity screening and counseling", Sung says. "Further, only a third of patients report receiving a diagnosis or weight loss counseling".

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

In addition, communities can provide more opportunities for people to exercise by creating bike and walking paths.

Several years ago, the authors of the current study identified increases in early onset colorectal cancer in the USA, a trend that has been observed in several high-income countries and could partly reflect the obesity epidemic. This was true for half of the 12 cancers classified as related to obesity: colorectal, uterine corpus, gallbladder, kidney, pancreatic, and multiple myeloma (a type of bone marrow cancer).

Building on earlier research suggesting a link between obesity and more frequent colon cancers in young adults, Jamel and colleagues analysed all cancer cases from 1995 to 2015 in 25 U.S. states home to 67 percent of the population. The study, appearing in The Lancet Public Health, also looked at rates for 18 cancers unrelated to obesity, and found rates increasing for only two.

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That research included data from national cancer registries of 20 European countries, including the UK, Norway, Slovenia and Germany.

Those between the ages of 30 and 34 saw a 2.47 percent increase, while those between the ages of 35 and 39 saw a 1.31 percent increase.

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

Professor Aranda explained that individuals can also take steps to reduce their risk of lifestyle-related cancers. It could be that some types of breast cancer are on the rise while others are in decline, the researchers suggested. Of course, obesity is only one factor - the environment, genetics and other issues also play roles, the BBC points out.

The authors of the study argue that further research is needed to determine what factors are driving the trend.

According to Berger, who runs a lab focused on obesity and cancer, one likely theory is that some of those hormones match receptors in certain cancers but not others, thus stimulating tumor growth in cancers that are a good fit.

Although the study, published in the Lancet Public Health journal did not look at United Kingdom patients, the authors said it was plausible that their findings held for the UK.

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