Certain cancers are showing up more often in younger adults. Researchers believe obesity is to blame.
A comprehensive study published this week found that 6 out of 12 types of cancer thought to result from being significantly overweight are becoming notably more common among those under the age of 50.
What’s more, the younger the patient, the more common certain cancers were.
The findings, published in The Lancet Public Health, noted a significant increase in the incidence of multiple myeloma — rare cancer that attacks the bone marrow — along with colorectal, uterine, gallbladder, kidney, and pancreatic cancer.
Obesity has also been linked to cancer of the stomach, liver, breasts, ovaries, esophagus, and thyroid.
The study’s authors said their work is the first since the mid-1990s to review trends in the incidence of these 12 obesity-related cancers. They compared them with 18 other cancers among younger adults.
The team reviewed 20 years of data on those cancers, studying information from state registries on patients ranging in age from 25 to 84.
They found more than 14 million cases diagnosed from 1995 through 2014 for the 30 types of cancer.
“What makes this study relevant is that it’s very large,” said Dr. Anton Bilchik, a professor of surgery and chief of medicine at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in California.
That obesity-related cancers are showing up in relatively young people has been the subject of multiple studies in recent years.
What’s striking about this latest research, Bilchik told Healthline, is both its scope and the discovery that the incidence of some of these diseases is rising among successively younger groups.
By contrast, rates either dropped or held steady in all but 2 of the 18 cancers not related to obesity.
Bilchik is seeing the trend among his own patients.
In the past week, Bilchik operated on four individuals under 55 with diagnoses of advanced-stage cancers that usually affect people in their 60s and 70s.
Two of them were obese and the other two had been overweight as children, which Bilchik thinks also predisposed them to cancer.
One example of the inverse relationship between risk and age is pancreatic cancer.
The study’s authors found the incidence of that disease changed .77 percent per year on average in the 45- to 49-year age group.
By contrast, the annual incidence rose by 2.47 percent on average among 30- to 34-year-olds. In the 25- to 29-year-old cohort, the average yearly change was 4.34 percent.
Although adults ages 50 and older also experienced steady increases in the incidence of most of those obesity-related cancers — colorectal and uterine were the exceptions — the magnitude of those changes was smaller than among younger age groups, except for thyroid cancer.
What’s the connection?
The connection between obesity and certain cancers remains unclear, as does the reason for the uptick of those illnesses in ever-younger populations.
However, medical experts have some theories.
Experiments on mice have shown that obesity accelerates the uncontrolled growth of cells, which could result in human malignancies being discovered earlier in life, the recent study reported.
Obesity has been an increasingly worrisome problem for decades now.
An estimated 40 percent of adults and 18 percent of young people in the United States are obese, despite national guidelines that recommend doctors screen children and young adults for obesity.
The recent study noted that fewer than half of primary care physicians routinely calculate their patients’ body mass index and only one-third of people with obesity report that their doctor determined they were substantially overweight or referred them to weight loss counseling.
But there are other aspects of the problem as well.
Genes, metabolism, and exposure to environmental factors such as processed foods might also play a role in obesity, said Dr. George Chang, professor of surgery and chief of colorectal surgery at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
“It’s certainly a very complex issue and that’s why it’s such a difficult public health problem,” Chang told Healthline.
Finding a solution will require the efforts of all stakeholders, Chang said.
“I think everybody’s responsible,” he said.
Individuals need to understand the consequences of poor lifestyle choices and healthcare providers should be impressing the importance of proper diet and exercise with their patients even though it can be a sensitive topic for those who are overweight, Chang said.
Policy makers also have a role to play. One way could be limiting students’ access to food and sugary drinks that contribute to childhood obesity, Chang said.
The study noted that although some communities are taxing sodas and creating pedestrian-friendly areas to boost physical activity, they remain the exception.
Obesity itself isn’t necessarily the only culprit in a younger person’s cancer diagnosis, however.
Other health complications that excess weight can cause — such as diabetes and gallstones — are also associated with cancer, according to the report.
So is a diet that’s top-heavy with red or processed meat but short on fruits and vegetables.
Whatever the cause, the study concluded that the growing problem of obesity-related cancers in younger generations ultimately could stop or even reverse the progress that’s been made in reducing cancer deaths.
The bottom lineA new study says cancers related to obesity are on the rise among younger adults.
In particular, there has been a significant increase in multiple myeloma, colorectal, uterine, gallbladder, kidney, and pancreatic cancers.
In addition, the younger the age group the higher the increase was.
Researchers said doctors need to emphasize healthy eating choices as well as exercise routines to younger people.
Red Meat Hurts Your Heart, Right? Scientists Find That May Not Be True
- A new study finds that eating red meat isn’t associated with an increased risk of cancer or heart disease.
- This goes against long-held scientific opinion that red meat is associated with an increased risk of certain health conditions.
- But experts say this doesn’t mean you can eat burgers every day, and that more research needs to be done.
We’ve heard it for years: Cut back on red meat in favor of lean meats like fish or chicken. But now researchers say there’s evidence red meat may not be quite as bad for our health as we’ve thought.
A rigorous review of the evidence finds little to no health benefit from reducing red or processed meat consumption from average levels. But don’t think this means you can go and have a burger every day.
Drinking soda linked to higher risk of kidney disease, finds new study
New United States research has found that a high intake of sugar sweetened beverages such as sweetened fruit drinks and soda may be linked to an increased risk of developing chronic kidney disease (CKD).
Carried out by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, the new study looked at 3,003 African-American men and women with normal kidney function who were enrolled in the Jackson Heart Study, a long-term study investigating risk factors for diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, and diabetes.
The researchers assessed beverage intake using a food frequency questionnaire completed at the start of the study from 2000 to 2004, and then followed participants until 2009 to 2013.
The findings, published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (CJASN), showed that consuming a “beverage pattern” of soda, sweetened fruit drinks, and water was associated with a higher risk of developing CKD.
Although certain beverages, such as sugar-sweetened drinks, have already been found to affect kidney health, previous findings have been inconsistent. The new study also contributes to the growing body of evidence of the negative health consequences of drinking sugar-sweetened beverages.
However, the researchers were surprised to find that water was one of the drinks also linked with a higher risk of CKD. They noted that the participants’ water consumption may have included a wide variety of types of water, including flavored and sweetened water, although unfortunately, the researchers did not collect information about specific brands or types of bottled water in the Jackson Heart Study. JB
Don’t Drink Sugar Calories
Sugary drinks are the most fattening things you can put into your body.
This is because liquid sugar calories don’t get registered by the brain in the same way as calories from solid foods.
For this reason, when you drink soda, you end up eating more total calories.
Sugary drinks are strongly associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and all sorts of health problems.
Keep in mind that fruit juices are almost as bad as soda in this regard. They contain just as much sugar, and the small amounts of antioxidants do NOT negate the harmful effects of the sugar.