From OHC

March 14, 2023

Contact: Joanie Manzo
Director, Marketing & Physician Services
513-751-2145 x20143

While the National Cancer Institute (NCI) reports that the median age of a cancer diagnosis is 66 years, recent research indicates that there is a growing incidence of early-onset cancers. What is causing this alarming trend, and can we reverse it?

Early-onset cancer is cancer diagnosed in adults younger than 50. Researchers of Brigham and Women’s Hospital reviewed literature and mapped trends on the incidence of 14 cancer types among 20-49-year-olds in 44 countries between 2002-2012. Last year, they published their results in the journal of Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology. They discovered the disturbing increase in the incidence of early-onset cancer has been occurring globally since 1990.

“More research needs to be done to determine the specific cause(s) for the increase, but the researchers explained that it could partially be attributed to significant changes in diet, sleep, smoking, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and environmental factors that have occurred since the mid-20th century,” said OHC medical oncologist and hematologist Evan Z. Lang, MD, MS. “Interestingly, of the 14 cancer types evaluated, eight relate to the digestive system. This points to the negative impact improper nutrition and more frequent antibiotic use have on the gut microbiome.”

The gut microbiome refers to the genes that make up the trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms (viruses, bacteria) that live in the digestive tract. The composition of one’s microbiome partially depends on genes, but it is also influenced by diet, alcohol consumption, smoking, exercise, and antibiotic use. Fiber-rich, minimally processed foods support a healthy microbiome and appear to reduce cancer risk. A Western diet high in saturated fat, processed foods, and sugar, but low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fiber, has the opposite effect. While antibiotics are hard at work fighting harmful bacteria that make us sick, they are also killing off “good” bacteria that help with digestion and immune development.

Poor diet and lack of exercise also increase cancer risk. Obesity rates have increased since the 1950s, and according to the State of Obesity 2022: Better Policies for a Healthier America report, four in 10 American adults are obese.

Additional causes for the increase include:

  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Smoking and vaping
  • Use of recreational drugs
  • Sleep deprivation and/or poor sleep quality
  • Reproductive changes including early menstruation, delaying childbirth, and having less children
  • Growing number of HPV (human papillomavirus) infections
  • More type 2 diabetes
  • More pollution in the environment

“Scientists reported another interesting finding—a birth cohort effect,” noted Dr. Lang. “They observed that each successive group of people born at a later time, for example, a decade later, had a higher risk of developing cancer later in life. They determined that this was most likely a result of risk factors they were exposed to at a young age.”

Researchers do recognize that in recent decades more cancers are discovered at an earlier age because of better cancer screening programs and detection practices. This points to the importance of following recommended screening guidelines and scheduling annual exams with primary care doctors while sharing family history.

There is good news. As a result of treatment advances and cancer research, cancer survival rates are increasing. “Furthermore, keep in mind that the majority of the factors linked to the increase in early-onset cancer diagnoses are modifiable lifestyle factors,” said Dr. Lang. “Parents should focus on cultivating healthy habits in their children early in life. We can help to reverse the trend reported in this study by focusing on a plant-based diet and participating in more physical activity.”

There are some causes of cancer that are out of our control, and cancer risk does increase as we age. Unsettling study findings indicate that we should not consider cancer a disease of the aged. OHC’s cancer experts offer several resources on cancer prevention, including a recent blog containing helpful steps to take toward cancer prevention. For more information on OHC’s multidisciplinary team of cancer specialists or to request a second opinion, call 1-888-649-4800 or visit

OHC (Oncology Hematology Care) has been fighting cancer on the front lines for more than 38 years. We are the region’s leading experts in the treatment of nearly every form of adult cancer and complex blood disorder. OHC cancer experts include medical oncologists, hematologists, blood and marrow transplant specialists, cellular therapy specialists, radiation oncologists, gynecologic oncologists, and breast surgical oncologists. OHC continues to bring hope and leading-edge treatment options through its nationally recognized cancer research and clinical trials program, and our partnership with world-renowned Sarah Cannon Research Institute gives local patients greater access to phase 1-4 clinical trials. OHC is the first, most experienced, and only certified independent adult cancer practice in the region to offer the revolutionary immunotherapy treatments CAR-T and NK cell therapy, for adults, ushering in a new frontier in the fight against cancer. OHC is certified by the American Society of Clinical Oncology in the Quality Oncology Practice Initiative Certification Program. At its heart, our approach to cancer care is simple — to surround you with everything you need so you can focus on what matters most: beating cancer. For more information about OHC, or a second opinion, call 1-888-649-4800 or visit

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