SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Cancer is being found more frequently in younger adults, meaning people under 50, according to a new study.

The study, published in August in the journal JAMA Network Open, looked at more than half a million people over nine years and found that gastrointestinal cancers had the fastest-growing rates of all.

“That recent report did confirm what we’ve seen in some other cancers that have played out. So one of the big ones is colorectal cancer and cancer of the digestive tract,” said Dr. Grace Makari-Judson, Medical Director of Cancer Center and Division Chief of Hematology Oncology at Baystate Health in Springfield.

Doctors call the cancers that affect people under 50 early onset cancer. The study showed that the increase in early-onset cancers was driven by cases found specifically in younger women.
Which went up an average of .67 percent each year.

Cancers with the highest numbers of early-onset cases­ in 2019 were breast (12,649 cases), thyroid (5,869), and colorectal cancers (4,097). Cancers of the gastrointestinal tract grew the fastest from 2010 to 2019, increasing nearly 15%.

According to the study, the increase in early-onset cancers is likely associated with the increasing prevalence of obesity, and lack of physical activity among others.

“We are understanding more about what that means, is part of it also related to body metabolism, is part of it related to sedentary lifestyle. But that is a factor that is clearly influencing the numbers that we are seeing in younger individuals,” Dr. Makari-Judson said.

The doctor also expressed concerns about the role alcohol, specifically binge drinking has on these early-onset cancers. “People also metabolize alcohol differently, so that may be related to why one person can have no problems and another could develop cancer because of their alcohol intake.”

The doctor said the growing number of cancer cases in younger people is working to change screening guidelines. For example, colonoscopies were first recommended for people 50 and older, now that age starts at 45. In addition to screening for breast and colorectal cancers, cervical and lung cancers can also be screened for. Doctors agree that these screening measures are one of the best ways to find cancer at an earlier stage which means treatment is more likely to be successful.

“By finding cancers earlier, we’re making treatments potentially more streamlined, we’re giving people better opportunities to maybe have less invasive treatments,” Dr. Makari-Judson said.

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Alanna Flood is a reporter who has been a part of the 22News team since 2022. Follow Alanna on X @alannafloodnews and view her bio to see more of her work.