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Obesity-Linked Cancers On the Rise in Young Adults

06 February 2019

An analysis released Monday by the American Cancer Society (ACS) reveals that obesity-linked cancers are on the increase among young adults in the U.S., a trend which could stifle the progress made in reducing cancer mortality over the last few decades.

In a sweeping study covering two-thirds of the USA population, they 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.

"This study shows the incidence of cancer associated with obesity has been rising dramatically in groups of individuals born in more recent decades", said MD Anderson Cancer Center's Dr. George Chang, who was not associated with the analysis.

Further, the report said these obesity-related cancer rates were observed to have increased gradually in "successively younger birth cohorts".

The six kinds affected are kidney, pancreatic, gallbladder, multiple myeloma, uterine corpus and colorectal - or bowel - cancer. While the researchers also found an increase in the number of new cases among baby boomers (people over the age of 50), the rise was not as steep or significant.

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

'Younger generations are experiencing earlier and longer-lasting exposure to excess fat and to obesity-related health conditions that can increase cancer risk'. British obesity rates are not far behind the US.

The age category that experienced the greatest increase in frequency for four of the other five cancers was also those between 25 to 29.

Over the six types of obesity-related cancers, the annual increase ranged from less than 1 percent in uterine cancer to 3 percent for kidney cancer among those aged 45 to 49, and from 1 percent for multiple myeloma up to 6 percent for kidney cancer among those aged 25 to 29.

Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, said: "There was a time when Type 2 diabetes used to be considered a mid-life disease triggered by our obesity epidemic".

The researchers note that they were not able to quantify the impact of new modes of detection - such as highly sensitive diagnostic imaging - on emerging cancer incidence trends in young generations. The researchers believe that the increase is tied to the prevalence of obesity in the country and among young people.

Excess body fat is known to increase the risk of certain cancers.

"We know in animal models that obesity accelerates the onset of cancer", said Berger.

Professor Sanchia Aranda, CEO Cancer Council Australia said, "With more than two thirds of adults considered overweight or obese, and almost half insufficiently active, these results show we have the potential to prevent a significant number of cancers in Australia and potentially save thousands of lives".

What this research shows, Berger said, is an association between cancer and obesity in younger and younger ages.

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

Obesity-Linked Cancers On the Rise in Young Adults