Alarming rise in early onset cancer among millennials

Breast, kidney, pancreas, and liver cancers are also joining the list in the most common cancers affecting young people. Picture: Keira Burton/Pexels

Breast, kidney, pancreas, and liver cancers are also joining the list in the most common cancers affecting young people. Picture: Keira Burton/Pexels

Published Mar 26, 2024


In a startling shift that's catching the attention of medical professionals worldwide, cancer is no longer a condition predominantly affecting those over fifty.

Millennials, brace yourselves, the big C is increasingly knocking on the doors of the young, with 20-somethings now facing a faster rise in cancer rates than any other age group.

Over the past three decades, cancer rates have risen faster for 25 to 29-year-olds than any other age group.

Cancer rates have increased faster for 25- to 29-year-olds in G20 nations over the past 30 years. l ANNA TARAZEVICH/UNSPLASH

Cancer rates have increased faster for 25 to 29-year-olds in G20 nations over the past 30 years – by 22% between 1990 and 2019, reports the Financial Times (FT).

The UK newspaper analysed data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine and found that cancer diagnoses for 20 to 34-year-olds in these Western countries are now at their highest level in three decades.

Meanwhile, cancer cases in those over 75 have declined since 2005.

Vanessa Snow, the go-to expert at Janssen South Africa, has been keeping a close eye on this trend. "It's true that cancer is more common in older folks, but the spike we're seeing in young adults is something we can't ignore," she explains.

The American Cancer Society throws in a sobering statistic: this year alone, 7% of cancer deaths and 13% of colorectal cancer cases will be among the under-fifty crowd.

Snow and her team are digging deep to understand why colorectal cancer is on the rise.

"We're seeing a trend that's almost moving in step with our increasing use of plastics," she said, pointing out the unsettling presence of micro and nano-plastics in our food and water.

How these tiny particles interact with our bodies is still a bit of a mystery, but the potential link to cancer has researchers on high alert.

The alarming rise in cancer cases among millennials has many experts scratching their heads, but recent findings are starting to connect the dots. It's not just that we're getting better at spotting cancer early; our modern way of living seems to be setting the stage for the disease.

A deep dive by the Financial Times, along with several other studies, points a finger at our changing diets and daily habits.

Today's menu often features processed foods that are quick and easy but not necessarily good for our health. Add to that our tendency to lounge more and move less, and you've got a recipe for health troubles.

But it's not just about what we eat or how often we hit the gym. Our environment is also a concern. We're surrounded by a cocktail of toxins in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and even the products we use every day.

These elements are emerging as key players in the cancer uptick among younger generations.

It's not just colorectal cancer that's affecting the young. Breast, kidney, pancreas, and liver cancers are also joining the list. Snow suggests that a "bloated western lifestyle" might be to blame.

"Millennials have grown up in an era dominated by fast food and processed snacks, which isn't doing any favours for our health," added Snow.

And let's not forget the obesity epidemic, another unwelcome side effect of our love for overindulgence and sedentary habits.

When you add environmental pollutants to the mix that have permeated across every aspect of the human environment, the elements conducive to cancer risk factors present themselves in plain sight, she said.

But it's not all doom and gloom. Snow points out that the age-old advice from healthcare pros still stands strong.

"Eating fresh, exercising, limiting alcohol, and kicking smoking to the curb are simple steps that could lead to a longer, cancer-free life," she advised. Regular self-checks, screenings, and safe sex are also key tactics in the fight against cancer.

Snow is realistic about the challenges we face with environmental pollutants, but she's also optimistic. "We can't fix pollution overnight, but we can take charge of our health," she explained.

"From choosing healthier lifestyles to recycling plastics, we all have a part to play. And let's not forget the incredible strides science is making in the battle against cancer. Together, these efforts give us hope for a healthier future."