Early-Onset Cancer Diagnoses Increased Over Last Several Decades

In many countries, early onset cancer—a diagnosis of cancer in people aged 50 years and younger—has increased drastically in recent years, according to a new study.

The researchers aimed to establish a cause or reason for the rise in early-onset cancer during the past several decades. According to the study, there has been an increase in cancer in the following organs: breast, colorectum, endometrium, oesophagus, extrahepatic, bile duct, gallbladder, head and neck, kidney, liver, bone marrow, pancreaes, prostate, stomach, and thyroid.

Using data from the Global Cancer Observatory, the researchers analyzed data describing the incidence of 14 different cancer types in adults 50 and younger from 2000 to 2012. Furthermore, the researchers reviewed data from various cohort studies where risk factor trends were examined.

From their findings, evidence suggested that early life and young adulthood risk factor exposures play a role in an early-onset diagnosis of cancer. A person’s diet, lifestyle, weight, environmental exposures, and microbiome are key parts to early diagnosis, and these factors have changed substantially over the last several decades. Additionally, the researchers pointed out that factors such as a westernized diet and lifestyle may contribute to an early-onset cancer epidemic occurring globally.

The researchers acknowledged that the increased use of cancer screening technologies and early detection possibly contributed to this trend. While they were unable to determine what proportion of the increase was due to increased screening in this patient population, the researchers noted that an increase across 14 cancer types is unlikely to be from increased screening measures alone.  

“Although available data on the incidence of early-onset cancers in low-income and middle-income countries are currently limited, the rise of early-onset cancers is likely to be increasingly prominent in those countries, potentially leading to a global early-onset cancer pandemic,” the authors concluded.


—Jessica Ganga


Ugai T, Sasamoto N, Lee HY, et al. Is early-onset cancer an emerging global epidemic? current evidence and future implications. Nat Rev Clin Oncol. Published online September 6, 2022. doi:10.1038/s41571-022-00672-8.