The Cleveland Clinic garners patients from all across the United States due to the high level of care it provides. Lately, doctors there have noticed a disturbing trend: More cancer patients under the age of 50.
“It’s a very concerning trend for sure and one we see in clinic all the time,” said Dr. Kuneel Kamath, an oncologist for Cleveland Clinic. ”If you look at my clinic schedule, and I just kind of scan through the ages of the patients coming in, there are a lot more people in their 20s and 30s than there were in the past.”
The Cleveland Clinic’s observations are backed by data.
According to Harvard Medical School, the global incidence of early onset cancers — including breast, colon, esophagus, kidney, liver, and pancreas — has dramatically increased. These results were published in Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology in 2022.
“From our data, we observed something called the birth cohort effect. This effect shows that each successive group of people born at a later time — e.g., a decade later — have a higher risk of developing cancer later in life, likely due to risk factors they were exposed to at a young age,” said Shuji Ogino, a professor at Harvard Chan School and Harvard Medical School
Harvard researchers say possible causes are increased alcohol consumption, sleep deprivation, smoking, obesity, and eating highly processed foods. Harvard Medical School said consumption of alcohol and added sugars has increased over time.
The group also noted that children get less sleep now than they did decades ago.
“We know that calorie excess really causes a lot of harmful things in terms of metabolism, inflammation,” Kamath said. “All of those things can be triggers for cancer and because excess weight is such a global risk factor, it really could affect many different tumor types.”
Kamath said improving diet and exercise by including fruits and vegetables is a way to lower the risk. Kamath also recommends keeping up with routine screenings.