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Early-onset cancer rates appear to be rising in adults under 50, according to a new study published by the JAMA Network Aug. 16. 

Data posted by the medical journal on Wednesday showed startling rates of early-onset colorectal cancer, thyroid and breast cancer developing among women and young adults under the age of 50. Researchers behind the study examined a cohort of 562,145 people with early-onset cancer in the U.S. from 2010 to 2019 to uncover the shocking discovery. 

According to the study, overall, early-onset cancers increased by 0.28% each year within the age group. Young women under the age of 50 were hit the hardest by the growing epidemic. For men, cancer rates appeared to fall slightly.

Here’s a breakdown.

In 2010, there were 34,233 early-onset cancer cases in women and 35,721 in 2019, representing an increase of 4.35 %, the study noted. The number of incidence early-onset cancers in men decreased from 21,818 in 2010 to 20,747 in 2019, representing a decrease of 4.91%. 

According to the data, the disease appears to be impacting individuals between the age of 30 and 39 at a higher rate than populations older than 50.

2019 was an alarming year. In 2019, early-onset breast cancer rates soared in women. There were 12,649 cases. Thyroid cancer cases also climbed to 5,869. Colorectal cancer came in third place at 4,097. Gastrointestinal cancers had the fastest-growing incidence rates of early-onset cancer in 2019. The biggest increases in early-onset cases were in cancers of the appendix, which went up 252% and cancers of the bile duct, which increased by 142%. Uterine cancer cases also increased by 76%.

Cases of gastrointestinal cancer rose within the Hispanic community between 2010 and 2019. 

When researchers broke the data down by race and ethnicity, they found startling rates of gastrointestinal, stomach and colorectal cancers growing among Hispanic people. Appendiceal cancer cases appeared to be rising among Asians or Pacific Islanders. In Black people, the incidence of appendiceal and biliary cancer increased significantly between 2010 and 2019. White people experienced higher rates of appendiceal and intrahepatic bile duct cancers over the last decade, according to the study. 

On average, the growth rates of early-onset cancers remained stable in white people and decreased in African American people between 2010 and 2019, but now is not the time to ease up on preventative cancer screening and precaution if you are under 50, especially if you are African American.

Black people are disproportionately impacted by breast and colorectal cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, Black women are 41% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women, “despite being less likely to be diagnosed” with the disease.

Colorectal cancer cases are also high in the community. According to the organization, Black folks are “20% more likely to get colorectal cancer and about 40% more likely to die from it than most other groups.”

Researchers believe that access to quality health care, structural racism and inadequate health insurance may be to blame for the shocking statistic.

How do we stay healthy?

During an interview with CNN, Dr. Otis Brawley, the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Oncology and Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, recommended people within the impacted age group exercise regularly and try to maintain a healthy diet that consists of “five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables” a day. Lowering red meat and processed foods may also help to reduce your risk.

Brawley believes that the alarming cancer rates in young people could be developing due to poor lifestyle habits like excessive eating, smoking and alcohol consumption. 

“The largest cause of cancer in the United States right now is smoking, but smoking rates [have been] going down since the 1960s,” Brawley told CNN. “It’s in the next couple of years that the biggest cause of cancer in the United States is going to be not obesity but obesity, consumption of too many calories and not enough exercise. … My gut suspicion is that a large part of this trend is lifestyle, or it’s driven by increased caloric consumption, increased obesity and not enough exercise.”

The doctor noted that alcohol-related cancers have also increased over the last year, so kicking the bottle or limiting your alcohol consumption may also help to keep you healthy.

Listen to your body. Know the symptoms.

Symptoms for breast and colorectal cancer can vary, but these are some of the most common symptoms, according to the American Cancer Society.

Breast Cancer

  • Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no lump is felt)
  • Skin dimpling (sometimes looking like an orange peel)
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Nipple retraction (turning inward)
  • Nipple or breast skin that is red, dry, flaking, or thickened
  • Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the arm or near the collarbone (Sometimes this can be a sign of breast cancer spread even before the original tumor in the breast is large enough to be felt.)

Colorectal Cancer

  • A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days.
  • A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by having one.
  • Rectal bleeding with bright red blood.
  • Blood in the stool, which might make it look dark brown or black.
  • Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain.
  • Weakness and fatigue.
  • Losing weight without trying.

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