Obesity and junk food linked to rise in cancer in young adults – Women’s Health UK

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According to new data from Cancer Research UK, cancer cases are increasing more rapidly among young people than older adults due to the obesity epidemic, cheap junk food, and inactivity.

The number of people under 50 being diagnosed with cancer in the UK has risen by 24% over the past two decades – a sharper increase than in any other age group – the research reveals.

While approximately 9 in 10 cancer cases still occur in people over 50, between 2017 and 2019, around 100 younger adults in the UK were diagnosed with cancer each day.

‘Over recent decades, there has been a clear increase in cancer incidence rates in young adults in the UK,’ said Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician. ‘Evidence suggests that more adults under 50 may be getting cancer than ever before.’

According to the data, in 2019, nearly 35,000 individuals aged 25 to 49 were diagnosed with cancer. The incidence rates in this age group increased from 132.9 per 100,000 people in 1995 to 164.6 per 100,000 in 2019.

The explosion in cases was a key focus of discussion last weekend at the world’s largest cancer conference, the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

‘Changes to lifestyles and diets over time, and rising obesity, may all contribute to the uptick in early-onset cancer,’ said Prof Swanton. ‘Genetics, improvements in diagnosis and screening and the microbiome could also play a role.’

The second biggest rise in cases was among the under-25s. Their rate increased 16%, from 16.6 cases per 100,000 in 1995 to 19.2 in 2019.

While researchers are still in the early stages of working out why cancer may be becoming a young person’s disease, the clues are already emerging.

‘Around four in 10 cancer cases are preventable, and there are steps people can take to help reduce their cancer risk,’ Swanton said. ‘Not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, being safe in the sun and cutting down on alcohol all make a big difference.’

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