Obesity-linked cancers rising in young adults

In a sweeping study covering two-thirds of the US population researchers showed that half a dozen cancers for which obesity is a known risk factor became more frequent from 1995 to 2015 among women and men under 50

Obese people will not definitely develop cancer but they are at a higher risk than people who are a healthy weight.

"Given the large increase in the prevalence of overweight and obesity among young people and increasing risks of obesity-related cancers in contemporary birth cohorts, the future burden of these cancers could worsen as younger cohorts age, potentially halting or reversing the progress achieved in reducing cancer mortality over the past several decades", Ahmedin Jamal, scientific vice president of surveillance and health services research for the society and the study's corresponding author, said in a press release. For incidence rate ratios please see Tables S5 (12 obesity-related cancers) and S6 (18 additional cancers) in the appendix.

In the youngest age group, 25 to 29 years, it was 4.3 per cent. Rates of some of these same cancers also increased among older adults, but the increases were much smaller, the researchers said.

The American Cancer Society study, which used data covering half the U.S. population, found that six cancers known to be related to obesity were rising fastest among those under 50.

'Most cancers occur in older adults, which means that as the young people in our study age, the burden of obesity-related cancer cases and deaths are likely to increase even more. Of the 18 other types of cancers included in the study only two showed a similar trend while eight - mostly related to smoking, infection, or both - showed a decline, and the rest remained stable. Specifically, the study in the Lancet sees potential trouble with colorectal, endometrial, gallbladder, kidney, and pancreatic cancers, as well as multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer, reports CNN.

Most epidemiological studies have focused on older populations so the effect on cancer risk of excess bodyweight in early life, or of weight gain in young adulthood, is not well understood. But, Dr. Schwartz says, other studies show "how obesity contributes to a chronic state of inflammation in our bodies, and that chronic state is known to promote carcinogenesis in animal models".

The American Cancer Society believes this shift could impede the progress recently made in battling cancer.

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The current study did not include data on obesity and can only infer a link between obesity and rising cancer rates, says Schwartz. In addition, cancer rates sometimes rise due to better screening, such as the recent increase in thyroid cancer rates that is attributed, in part, to more people having ultrasound examinations that detect the disease.

What this research shows, Berger said, is an association between cancer and obesity in younger and younger ages. Now, new research suggests cancer can be added to that list, and the rate of obesity-related cancers is certain to keep climbing among those aged 25 to 49, researchers report.

"But I think the overall picture is that most of these obesity-related cancers are increasing".

In contrast to the other obesity-related cancers, the risk of developing breast cancer generally remained unchanged in younger generations.

More effort is needed to combat the obesity epidemic, experts say.

Obesity is now one of the most preventable causes of cancer in both the U.S. and the United Kingdom - around 1 in 12 cases in the USA are caused by excess weight and more than 1 in 20 in the UK. "The next generation of kids born will also experience higher rates". That, he said, should be a wake-up call for doctors, policy makers and the public, especially when it comes to childhood obesity.

"Less than half of primary care physicians regularly assess body mass index despite national screening recommendations", he told NBC News.


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