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More younger adults are being diagnosed with cancer: Key takeaways

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In new data from the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer has become the leading killer of young men, while breast cancer is the leading cause of death in young women.

Even as cancer mortality continues to decline, new cancer data reveals disturbing trends among younger adults.

Image credit: @Valerii Apetroaiei - stock.adobe.com

More young adults are being diagnosed with cancer, including breast cancer, according to new data released by the American Cancer Society. (Image credit: @Valerii Apetroaiei - stock.adobe.com)

The American Cancer Society released its new annual report Wednesday, which shows that cancer mortality continues to decline and more than 4 million deaths have been prevented.

But the report also projects that, for the first time, more than 2 million new cancer diagnoses will occur in 2024.

Disturbingly, more younger adults are being diagnosed with cancer. Even as gains are being seen in older adults, colorectal and breast cancer cases are rising in younger adults.

Here are some key takeaways from the data, which was published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

Younger adults

Researchers note that age is the leading determining factor of cancer risk, but younger adults are seeing more cancer diagnoses.

Adults between the ages of 50 and 64 years account for 30% of the cancer population in 2019-20, up from 25% in 1995. Conversely, the percentage of adults 65 and over with cancer has dropped over that same span, from 61% to 58%.

Prostate cancer and smoking-related cancers are dropping in older adults, but researchers cited higher obesity as an increased cancer risk.

Researchers pointed to the rise in cancer cases among those under the age of 50.

“Notably, people aged younger than 50 years were the only one of these three age groups to experience an increase in overall cancer incidence during this time period,” the researchers wrote.

Colorectal cancer

Over the past few decades, colorectal cancer cases have been rising, and it’s leading to more deaths in younger adults.

Colorectal cancer has now emerged as the leading cancer killer of men under the age of 50, and it’s the second leading cause of cancer death among women younger than 50. In 1998, colorectal cancer was the fourth leading cause of cancer death for men and women under 50.

Breast cancer

Among women under 50, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths.

Breast cancer cases are rising among all women, but the increased rate of cases is higher among women under 50. From 2012-2019, the increase in cases is 1.1% annually among women under 50, and 0.5% in women 50 years and older.

Researchers point to lower fertility rates and more obesity, although they add that excess body weight is not tied to breast cancer in premenopausal women.

Gender gap

Among younger adults, women are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer.

The cancer incident rate among those younger than 50 is about 70% higher in women than in men, fueled by higher rates for breast cancer and thyroid cancer, researchers said.

Cervical cancer

From 2012 through 2019, more cervical cancer cases are being reported among women between the ages of 30 and 44, rising 1.7% per year. Cervical cancer incidences are dropping among women in their 20s, the first who were able to get the HPV vaccine, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2006.

Cervical cancer has now emerged as the third leading cancer killer among young women, researchers wrote.

Researchers pointed to the need for more screening in younger women and greater use of the HPV vaccine.

Liver cancer

Among women younger than 50, liver cancer continues to become more prevalent. Liver cancer cases have risen about 2% annually among women under 50, while they have decreased by 2.5% per year among men younger than 50.


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