In recent years, more specifically since 1990, the number of cancer cases in adults under 50 years of age has increased dramatically. The estimate is from a study recently published in Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers say early incidence was found in breast, colorectal, endometrial, esophagus, extrahepatic bile duct, gallbladder, head and neck, kidney, liver, bone marrow, pancreas, prostate, stomach cancer. and thyroid.
“We found that this problem is increasing with each generation. For example, people born in 1960 had a higher risk of cancer before they turned 50 than people born in 1950, and we predict that this level of risk will continue to rise in successive generations. “, explained Professor and Physician-Scientist at Brigham’s Department of Pathology, Shuji Ogino.
The study method started from a detailed and extensive analysis of the available data on the increase in the number of cases and the clinical and biological characteristics of the 14 types of cancer – in the literature and online – and compared early to late onset (in people with more than 50 years) of the disease.
The researchers also looked at possible risk factors that changed the “old pattern” of cancer occurrence.
Upon review, they found that environmental influences and early-life biological responses, such as diet, lifestyle, weight, environmental exposures, and the microbiome (all microorganisms that reside in human tissues and fluids), changed substantially in last decades.
Therefore, the likely hypothesis is that Westernized diet and lifestyle may be linked to a high incidence of early cancer.
The known and proven risk factors for cancer are consumption of alcohol and ultra-processed foods, sleep deprivation, smoking and obesity, for example.
One more piece of data found by the researchers that may reinforce the hypothesis is that there is no significant difference in the sleep duration of adults in the 1990s and that of today, but children are sleeping much less than they were decades ago.
Improved measures of localization and detection of the disease, through cancer screening programs, may also have been responsible for the increase, but scientists think this is unlikely to be the only cause.
The study also noted that the choice of ultra-processed foods such as sugary drinks, obesity, type 2 diabetes, a sedentary lifestyle and alcohol consumption has increased significantly in recent years, which suggests that these factors are linked to changing the microbiome.
“Among the 14 types of cancer on the rise we studied, 8 were related to the digestive system. The food we eat feeds the microorganisms in our gut. Diet directly affects the composition of the microbiome and eventually these changes can influence risk and disease outcomes,” said lead study author Tomotaka Ugai.
The only limitation of the research was the fact that the scientists did not have access to a considerable amount of data from middle- and low-income countries.
In the future, the researchers intend to collect more information and work with international research institutes to monitor global trends in the disease. In addition, they emphasize the importance of including young children in long-term studies on the subject, so that they are followed up for several decades.
“Without these studies [com crianças]it’s hard to pinpoint what someone with cancer did decades ago or as a child,” says Ugai.
He adds: “Because of this challenge, we intend to carry out more studies in the future, in which we follow the same number of participants over their lifetimes, collecting health data, potentially from electronic health records, and biospecimens at defined time points. Not only is this more cost-effective considering the many types of cancer that need to be studied, but I believe it will give us more accurate insights into cancer risk for generations to come.”
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