Early-onset cancer risk

Early-onset cancer risk
Early-onset cancer risk

JOHANNESBURG, March 22nd, 2024 – There has been a marked increase in early onset cancer, particularly amongst Millennials. Age-risk factors have lowered from an average age of fifty years, two decades ago, to an alarming and emerging group, twenty-five- to twenty-nine-year-olds, where cancer rates have risen faster than other age groups (1).

“While the risk of contracting cancer remains more prevalent in an older age group, the growth in younger people contracting the condition is telling,” said Vanessa Snow, Head of Medical Affairs at Janssen South Africa. The American Cancer Society predicted that this year, seven percent of deaths and thirteen percent of colorectal cancers, for example, will be detected in persons under fifty years old. (2) It is out of the norm.

Snow said that studies are presently underway to understand the sustained upward movement in incidences of colorectal cancer. (2) “There has been upward movement, with momentum, and could almost be paralleled with the growing use of plastic in almost every aspect of our lives. In turn, this has caused growth in incidences of micro and nano-plastics in foodstuffs and water as a consequence,” said Snow. (3) And while the way these tiny particles are consumed and move through the human body is not understood properly yet, it is important to interrogate, particularly because of the potential links with cancer. (3)

Other cancers that are afflicting younger victims include breast, kidney, pancreas, and liver, amongst others. (4) Snow believes that the growth in colorectal cancer amongst younger people could be a direct consequence of a bloated western lifestyle. (4) “We are becoming more sedentary, our diets have moved too far in the direction of processed foods, and in many ways, that is how Millennials have grown up, in the age where fast food and processed products have come into its own, likely to the detriment of collective wellness.”

A sustained and growing upward trend in western obesity has also not helped (4), said Snow, which are also a consequence of diet, but also excessive consumption. “Add to that, the pollutants that have permeated across every aspect of the human environment, and the elements conducive to cancer risk factors present themselves in plain sight,” she said.

To this end, lifestyle changes and preventative wellness measures that healthcare professionals have shared through the years remain pertinent. Snow said that it should be reinforced amongst younger persons. “A healthy lifestyle that includes more unprocessed foods, fruit and vegetables, exercise and limited consumption of alcohol, cutting out vices like smoking; these are the simple rules of thumb that can be the difference between a longer, healthier life or contracting cancer,” she said. (5) Avoidance of risky behaviours like unprotected sex, self-care such as frequent self-examinations and regular visits to healthcare practitioners for screenings remain important weapons in a cancer-free arsenal, noted Snow.

“Managing external factors and impacts of environmental pollutants cannot be undone overnight,” said Snow, “but we are able to manage our wellness through the actions we take as individuals. From lifestyle and diet through to individual repurposing or recycling of single-use plastics. That, coupled with the significant advances that science is making in combating cancer, could bode well for a healthier future.”