We know what we need to do to reduce our cancer risk, right? Wear SPF, stop smoking, avoid processed foods, stay fit, lose weight, and get enough sleep. But what if a lot of what causes cancer actually happened in our early years, or worse yet, before we were born. a recent study From Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard University, this may be the case, especially in cancers that occur before age 50 (early cancers).
The most important finding in this study, published in Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology, is that people born after 1990 are more likely to develop cancer before the age of 50 than people born, say, in 1970. This means that young people will be more intense . Cancer is burdened more than generations past, with its implications for health care, the economy and the family.
What we are exposed to in early life can influence our cancer risk later in life, and this review of cancer trends looks at how these factors affect early cancers. What early life exposure factors are is still not entirely clear, but the frontrunners include diet, lifestyle, the environment, and the germs that live in our gut (microbiome).
When looking at large numbers of people, researchers can see that dietary and lifestyle habits are formed early in life. This is seen in obesity where obese children are more likely to develop obese adults. Since obesity is a known risk factor for cancer, this means that these adults are more likely to develop cancer at an earlier age, possibly because they have been exposed to the risk factor for a longer time.
Of course, some of these early cancers are detected through early detection and screening programmes, which contributes to the increasing numbers of new cancers diagnosed annually worldwide. But this is not the whole story.
Early-onset cancers have different genetic signatures compared to late-onset cancers, and they do More likely to spread of cancers diagnosed later in life. This means that these cancers may need different types of treatment and a more personalized approach tailored to the patient’s age at the time the cancer developed.
The Brigham study looked at 14 types of cancer and found that the cancer’s genetic makeup, aggressiveness and growth were different in patients who had the same cancer before age 50 compared to those who had the same cancer after age 50.
This appears to be more pronounced in several types of bowel cancers (colorectal, pancreatic, and stomach). One possible reason for this has to do with our diet and microbiome.
Gut bacteria are altered by diets rich in sugar, antibiotics, and breastfeeding. And as the patterns of these things change in society over time, so does the bacteria in our gut. This may support the implementation of taxes on sugar As recommended by the World Health Organization.
If our healthy cells are programmed in the womb, so may the cells that cause cancer. Maternal diet, obesity, and environmental exposures, such as air pollution and pesticides, are known to be Increases the risk of chronic diseases and cancers.
Conversely, severe restrictions on food intake during pregnancy, as seen in starvation, increase Breast cancer risk in offspring. Each of these findings will have different implications for societal approaches to cancer risk reduction.
As a hematologist, I take care of patients with multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer that usually affects patients over the age of 70. In recent years, there has been an increasing number of younger people diagnosed with this cancer worldwide, and it is only partially explained by better screening. This study points to obesity as an important risk factor for early disease, but it is clear that there are other risk factors that have not yet been detected.
Understanding what makes early cancers a sign, what exposures are really important and what can be done to prevent them are some of the first steps to developing prevention strategies for future generations.