The steady increase in cancer cases among young people could be chalked up to red meat, salt and alcohol, new research suggests.
A study published Tuesday in BMJ Oncology analyzed data from 1990 and 2019, finding a 79% surge in new cancer cases in people under 50 over the course of three decades.
Using data from the Global Burden of Disease 2019 study — which looked at the prevalence of 29 cancers in 204 countries or regions — the researchers investigated the number of new cases, deaths, subsequent health repercussions and risk factors for people aged 14 to 49.
In 2019 alone, early-onset cancer cases in that age group totaled 3.26 million, an increase of 79.1% since 1990, according to the team of researchers from Zhejiang University School of Medicine and University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute.
The study authors also saw an uptick in cancer-related deaths by 27.7% since 1990. Cancers of the breast, trachea, lung, bowel and stomach had some of the higher mortality rates.
Cases of windpipe and prostate cancer have seen the largest increase since 1990, and breast cancer had the highest incidence rate of early-onset cases, the researchers found, while cases of early-onset liver cancer saw a decline.
North America was listed as one of the regions with the highest incidence of early-onset cancers in 2019, along with Australasia and Western Europe. Meanwhile, places such as Eastern Europe, Oceania and Central Asia had the highest mortality rates.
“The rising incidence of early-onset cancers may partially attribute to increasing uptake of screening and early detection in developed regions and countries,” the study authors wrote.
The increase in detections may also have a silver lining — author Dr. Xue Li pointed to “outstanding” screening efforts in the UK that have resulted in the decline of the country’s deaths related to early-onset cancer.
“Fortunately, the annual mortality rate from early-onset cancer in the UK has been steadily decreasing, a testament to the outstanding cancer screening and treatment efforts over the past three decades,” said Li, of the Centre for Global Health at the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute, per the Independent.
Should the team’s observed patterns continue, the researchers estimated that early-onset cancer diagnoses could increase by 31%, and deaths by 21%, by 2030.
The authors noted that “local environment, lifestyle and level of available medical treatment” could cause variations in cancer cases and mortality rates by region.
In addition to genetics, the findings stated that a “Western diet,” consisting of too much red meat and salt — and, subsequently, not enough fruit and milk — could also be putting young people at risk.
Alcohol intake and tobacco use were also highlighted as cancer risk factors to those under 50, in addition to lack of exercise, high body mass index and elevated blood sugar.