Cancer in people under 50 is rising around the world. Why?

We know what we need to do to reduce our risk of getting cancer, right? Wear SPF, stop smoking, avoid processed foods, keep fit, lose weight and get enough sleep. But what if much of what causes cancer has already happened in our early years, or worse still, before we were born. A recent study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard University says that may be the case, especially in cancers that happen before the age of 50 (early-onset cancers).

The most important finding in this study, published in Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology, is that people born after 1990 are more likely to develop cancer before the age of 50 than people born, for example, in 1970. Meaning that young people will be more heavily burdened by cancer than generations gone by, with the knock-on effects on healthcare, economics and families.

What we are exposed to in early life can affect our risk of developing cancer later in life, and this review of cancer trends looks at how these factors might be affecting early-onset cancers. What exposures matter in early life are still not fully clear, but front-runners include diet, lifestyle, the environment and the bugs that live in our gut (the microbiome).

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