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May 2023

Why Are Younger People Getting Cancer?

If it seems like younger people are getting cancer more often, you’re right. Although cancer mostly affects people ages 50 and older, recent years have brought a shift.

For instance, many people were shocked when actor Chadwick Boseman, star of Black Panther, and Dustin Diamond, who played Screech on TV’s Saved by the Bell, died of cancer in their 40s. And due to escalating rates of colorectal cancer among younger people, health experts now recommend that screening start at age 45 instead of 50.

Now, there’s more data to back this concerning trend. A recent research review crunched the numbers for 14 types of cancer, including breast, prostate, and pancreatic. The review found that, since the 1990s, rates increased worldwide for all those cancers among adults younger than 50.


Revealing the risk factors

The study authors also shed some light on why this might be happening. Lifestyle changes since the mid-20th century that increase cancer risk may only now be having an effect on adult cancer rates, they suggest.

These include:

  • Diets high in processed foods and sugars

  • Less physically demanding jobs and more time spent sitting

  • Greater alcohol consumption

  • Children getting less sleep

  • More adults working night shifts, which is linked to cancer risks such as obesity and diabetes

  • Increased rates of type 2 diabetes, which boosts the risk for liver, breast, and other cancers

Risk factors that affect children and young adults may have a greater impact on cancer rates in the future, the authors point out.

Take action for prevention

As the findings demonstrate, it’s never too early to think about cancer prevention. You can make healthy changes at any age. These include:

  • Stop drinking alcohol or cut back. If you drink, limit yourself to no more than one drink per day for women or two for men.

  • Follow a healthy eating pattern rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limit red meat, processed foods, and sugary drinks.

  • Avoid all forms of tobacco.

  • Move more. Work your way up to at least two and a half hours of moderate exercise per week. Kids should get 60 minutes of activity per day.

  • Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors and recommended cancer screenings. Discuss other steps that might keep you healthier longer.

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, MSN, BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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