Medicine

Obesity-linked cancers on the rise in young adults

Obesity-linked cancers on the rise in young adults

"This finding signals an increased burden of obesity-related cancers in older adults in the future and calls for actions to mitigate this burden", he said in an email.

Now, according to a latest study, obesity increases the risk of developing cancer in young adults.

Excess body weight is a known carcinogen, the American Cancer Society adds, and younger people are experiencing obesity earlier and for more prolonged periods of their lives.

An analysis of millions of records covering health data from between 1995 and 2014 showed that the incidence rate of six out of 12 obesity-related cancers had increased, especially among people aged under 50 years. The risk of colorectal, uterine corpus (endometrial), pancreas and gall bladder cancers in millennials, for example, was found to be about double the rate baby boomers faced at the same age, according to a press release on the report.

Overall, cancer-related deaths in the United States have fallen 27 percent in the past 25 years, mostly because fewer people are smoking and developing lung cancer, according to the most recent cancer statistics, published January 8, 2018, in the journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians (from the American Cancer Society). Still, the ways in which obesity may increase the risk of cancer is unclear, says Stephen Schwartz, PhD, a professor of epidemiology in the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center at the University of Washington in Seattle, who was not involved in the study.

"Importantly, the findings suggest the need for further close epidemiological monitoring of cancer incidence trends in younger adults", Birmann told BBC.

From 1999-2000 to 2015-2016, the prevalence of obesity in the USA population increased from 20.5 percent to 39.5, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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"The quality of the American diet has worsened in recent decades", said lead author Hyuna Sung, also of the American Cancer Society.

While the study did not focus on the specific causes of the increases in these cancer rates, it did hypothesize that the trends may be influenced by the rise in overweight and obese Americans. They looked at 30 types of cancers, including 12 that are considered obesity-related.

Although the link between obesity and cancer is not clearly understood, it is generally believed that excess body fat can affect the immune system and levels of certain hormones such as insulin and estrogen, factors that impact cell growth, and proteins that regulate how the body uses certain hormones.

Researchers say that these cancers normally get detected in patients in their 60s and 70s. For incidence rate ratios please see Tables S5 (12 obesity-related cancers) and S6 (18 additional cancers) in the appendix.

Experts said more research is needed to explore what is causing the rising rates because this study does not prove obesity is the only reason. These changes include genetic flags and markers - epigenetic modifications - that increase cancer risk and may remain long after weight loss. Obesity is among the most impactful of these.

"But in the future, obesity could reverse that progress", co-author Jemal cautioned.