Published: Wed, February 06, 2019
Medicine | By Tracy Klein

Obesity-related cancers rising in U.S. young adults

Obesity-related cancers rising in U.S. young adults

A new study reveals that cancers fueled by obesity are on the rise among American young adults and are appearing at increasingly younger ages. Only two types of non-obesity-related cancer, leukemia and a type of lower stomach cancer, increased among younger age groups during the study, suggesting that all cancer rates are not rising in this population.

"This study shows the incidence of cancer associated with obesity has been rising dramatically in groups of individuals born in more recent decades", said MD Anderson Cancer Center's Dr. George Chang, who was not associated with the analysis.

However, according to Brenda Birmann, a doctor at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, obesity is only one factor that could be leading to increased cancer rates among young adults.

This found that across Europe the rate of new cases of colon cancer among people aged 20-39 has risen by 7.4 per cent each year between 2008 and 2016, with incidence of rectal cancer also increasing.

Overall, they documented 14,672,409 cases of these 30 cancers between 1995 and 2014, finding that the incidence of six of the 12 obesity-related types (colorectal, uterine corpus, gallbladder, kidney, pancreatic and a type of blood cancer known as multiple myeloma) rose significantly in adults between the ages of 25 and 49.

Ahmedin Jemal, senior author of the study, said: 'Although the absolute risk of these cancers is small in younger adults, these findings have important public health implications. These cancers include multiple myeloma, colorectal, endometrial, gallbladder, kidney and pancreatic.

"Over the past few decades, death rates have been in decline for most cancers, but in the future obesity could reverse that progress, barring any interventions".

Millennials - people born in the 1980s or '90s - have double the risk of some types of cancers compared with the rates baby boomers experienced at that age, according to the American Cancer Society.

For example, the average annual increase for pancreatic cancer was more than four percent for patients ranging in age from 25 to 29, but less than one percent for those age 40 to 44. "The steepest increases were in the youngest age group, those aged 25 to 34 years".

The younger the age bracket, the more quickly these cancers gained ground, they reported in The Lancet, the medical journal.

Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, said: "There was a time when Type 2 diabetes used to be considered a mid-life disease triggered by our obesity epidemic". Obesity often leads to cancer in older adults, but now it has increased in young adults.

"Shockingly, if the same is happening with cancer in the United States it could already be happening here". Obesity rates have more than doubled in the U.S. between 1984 and 2014. Not everyone who gets these cancers is overweight either, and not everyone who is obese will necessarily get these cancers.

UN's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) did not show similar increases.

"Obesity during childhood actually is a major predictor of adult obesity", Chang said, "I think it highlights the importance of reducing the rates of obesity through better diet, better and more exercise".

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