Early-Onset Cancer Incidence and Mortality is on The Rise

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According to a new study featured recently in BMJ Oncology, the risk of developing cancer under the age of 50 has increased significantly. Researchers analyzed data associated with 29 different cancers from 204 countries from 1990 to 2019 and found that early-onset cancer incidence increased by 79.1 percent and the number of early-onset cancer deaths increased by 27.7 percent.

“When there is a screening strategy in place for people under 50 years of age, we are more likely to find cancers in this younger population,” explained naturopathic oncologist Tina Kaczor, ND, FABNO. “However, earlier screening as in the case with breast or cervical cancer does not completely explain the younger onset we are seeing worldwide, which is concerning.”

The researchers pointed out that only a small number of countries have implemented screening strategies for people under age 50 for only a few cancer types such as cervical, breast, and colon. That means that screening does not explain such a large increase in this age group. 

“It is worth exploring whether early screening and prevention programs for early-onset cancer should be expanded…,” the researchers concluded and stated, “Encouraging a healthy lifestyle could reduce early-onset cancer disease burden.”

Cancer Screening Tests

The National Cancer Institute considers the following screening tests to be effective:

  • Breast cancer screening starting at age 50 for women at average risk.
  • Cervical cancer screening starting at age 21 and ending at age 65.
  • Colorectal cancer screening starting at age 45 through age 75.
  • Lung cancer screening of current or former heavy smokers at age 50 to age 80.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, screening for other cancer types has not been shown to reduce deaths and there is insufficient evidence evaluating the benefits and harms of screening for other cancers.

Specific to breast cancer, last year the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force announced that it now recommends that all women begin screening at age 40 and then every other year until age 50 when they should be screened annually.

Dr. Kaczor, who is the Editor-in-Chief of the Natural Medicine Journal and the co-host of the popular podcast The Cancer Pod, feels prioritizing screening is important.

“Top screening strategies are those that not only screen but also can find precancerous lesions such as a Pap smear or colonoscopy,” said Dr. Kaczor. “While finding cancer early gives the patient the best chance of surviving, removing a precancerous lesion before it has a chance to develop into cancer is even better.”

In addition to screening recommendations, Dr. Kaczor utilizes an integrative approach to reducing cancer risk in her patients under age 50.

Integrative Risk Reduction Strategies

Dr. Kaczor begins by building a foundation that focuses on the basics such as creating a consistent sleep/wake cycle, exercise/physical activity preferably outside, eating a wide variety of plants, drinking clean water, and encouraging socializing/community interaction.

“Avoiding toxic substances whether in food, water, or air, is also important,” said Dr. Kaczor. “Many known carcinogens are in our food supply or in the air we breathe so being mindful of this and taking steps to reduce exposure are vital habits to cultivate.”

As for dietary supplements, Dr. Kaczor feels supplements are secondary to the foundational measures she employs first.

“I use supplements to ensure there are no deficiencies by focusing first on nutrients such as vitamin D and fish oil and using a multivitamin-mineral supplement,” she said. “After that, supplements are used to address an individual’s health challenges as needed. We reduce cancer risk by bringing the body into optimal balance including blood sugar, immune, hormonal, etc.”

The Clinical Bottom Line

“Because there are only a few cancers that we can screen for,” said Dr. Kaczor, “utilizing an integrative approach that encompasses diet, lifestyle, dietary supplements to optimize health, and remembering that good health begins in the gut is essential for the younger patient population, especially in light of this recently published study.”