Cancer is a fatal illness, not only for the one diagnosed but also for the family. Over the past decade, the cases of cancer diagnosis have increased significantly. In India, the cases of cancer reached 23 million in 2019 from 18.7 million in 2010 contributing to around 10 million deaths in 2019 and 8.29 million in 2010. According to the cancer statistics reported by the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), in every 8 minutes, 1 woman dies of cervical cancer and sadly, 1 in every 2 women diagnosed with breast cancer dies. This has aroused concern among the scientific community. Therefore, the researchers at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital conducted an intensive study to determine the major underlying cause behind the increased cases of cancer in people under 50 years of age.

The study conducted by these eminent scientists got published in the Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology. 

In this article, let us discuss about what the study was and the important findings concluded by the researchers of this study.

The study

Earlier cancer was regarded as the illness of the elderly, but not anymore. Over the past few decades, the occurrence of cancer has increased in people below 50 years of age. According to the team of researchers working at Brigham and Women’s Hospital observed that the cases of early-onset malignancies, that is, the cases of cancer before 50 years of age have increased significantly since 1990. The most common cancers diagnosed in people are colon cancer, breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, and kidney cancer.

An in-depth analysis of the data available easily in the literature and online was carried out to understand the underlying cause behind the early onset of cancer. The data collected from the literature and online sources included information on early life exposures as well as it can contribute to the development and progression of cancer in people. The findings concluded by the concerned team of researchers were published in the journal Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology.

According to the professor and physician-scientist Dr. Shuji Ogino (Brigham’s department of Pathology), a team of researchers found that the phenomenon of early onset malignancies is known as the birth cohort effect. According to the birth cohort effect, children born later in time have an increased risk of developing cancer in the later stages of life due to exposure to certain risk factors during their childhood. Ogino further added that the risk of cancer is increasing with each passing generation, that is, people born in 1960 have a greater chance of developing cancer before their 50s than the ones born in 1950.

The senior author of the concerned study, Dr. Tomotaka Ugai (Associate professor, department of pathology), and his team initially examined the global data available for people under 50 years of age between 2000 and 2012 for the occurrence of 14 distinct types of cancers. The studies that focussed on the potential risk factors like life exposures among the general population were also studied. Finally, the team of researchers looked at the literature to determine the differences between early-onset cancers and later-onset cancers on the basis of clinical and biological tumour characteristics.

Early life exposures like nutrition, weight, lifestyle, microbiome and environmental exposure have changed considerably over the past decade. This made the researchers develop the theory that the westernised lifestyle and food might play an important role in the increasing cases of cancer diagnosis in people below 50 years of age.

Apart from the early life exposure, the authors also stated that the screening measures taken for the early detection of cancer have also significantly contributed to the increasing cases of cancer diagnosis in people below 50 years of age. However, the researchers weren’t able to give an approximate percentage to depict the rise in early onset malignancies caused due to screening methods alone. Moreover, they also doubted that the increase in the cases of early-onset malignancies of all the 14 types of cancer can be due to the improved screening of cancer alone.

As we all know, cancer is a life-taking illness and a huge economic burden as well. Thus, it is important to take it seriously, early screening of cancer can help monitor cancer cases and also aid in early diagnosis of the disease so that early and efficient treatment of cancer can be given to the patients. Apart from early screening, adopting a healthy lifestyle is also very important to prevent the development of cancer itself.

What are the potential causes for an increase in the cases of cancer in people below 50 years of age?

Now, the major question that arises is what are the possible causes that can lead to a significant increase in the cases of cancer diagnosis in people below 50 years of age. Well, there are various environmental and lifestyle factors that can contribute to the increasing number of cancer cases. According to the working team of researchers, sleep deprivation, alcohol, obesity, smoking, and consumption of highly processed food are the major risk factors that have caused an increase in the cases of cancer in young patients. The researchers also noticed that the younger population is getting far less sleep now as compared to what they could get decades ago. However, the sleep pattern and duration of the elder population have still not changed significantly. 

The risk factors for cancer mentioned above like consumption of highly processed food, obesity, intake of sugary drinks, type II diabetes, obesity, alcohol consumption, and unhealthy lifestyle have increased since the 1950s which has led to the change in the microbiome. 

Ugai further evaluated the results and stated that out of 14 cancer types that they studied, 8 types of cancer were actually related to the human digestive system itself. He further explained that the microbes present in your digestive system are actually nourished by the food you eat, therefore, our diet directly impacts the microbiome’s makeup. Thus, an unhealthy diet for a prolonged time can increase the risk and prognosis of your illness.

The intensive study done by the researchers is detailed and relevant. However, there was insufficient data from the low-income nations and the middle-income nations which limits the tracking of the trends in cancer incidence throughout the globe. In the future, Ogino, Ugai, and their team of researchers aim to extend their findings by collecting more information relevant to the topic and collaborating with international research institutions as well to keep a better track of global trends. They also mentioned that they plan to take the parent’s approval for monitoring their young children for decades to increase the significance of long-term cohort studies. 


Cancer is a life-threatening illness. It not only affects you but the people surrounding you as well. In  the recent past, there have been various cases of cancer diagnosed in young people, that is, those below the age of 50. This trend has increased significantly over a decade and the major reason for this significant rise is your poor lifestyle, and unhealthy diet, this research conducted by the scientists at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital has given important insights into early-onset malignancies. Now that you know how your lifestyle can increase your risk of cancer, make sure that you adapt to a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

  • What age group has the highest probability of cancer diagnosis?

The cases of cancer diagnosis are the maximum in people above 45 years of age. Around 9 out of 10 diagnosed cancers are in people above 45 years of age.

  • What is the most common risk factor for cancer?

The most common factors that increase your risk of cancer include:

  • Obesity
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Smoking
  • Family history
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Does stress cause cancer?

According to research, stress is not directly linked to the development and progression of cancer. However, if your stress makes you sleep deprived or leads you to junk eating, it can increase your chances of cancer.


Prekshi Garg is a young, dynamic, energetic, and meritorious professional biotechnologist. She is a merit rank holder in her post-graduation and a skilled bioinformatician with great zeal to do her best in neurosciences. She is currently working in the area of Neurotranscritomics dealing with neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders. She has presented many papers at different scientific forums and is awarded ‘Representing the Institution in Scientific Events’ citation by Amity University Uttar Pradesh and Top position in Student Assistantship Program held at Amity University in addition to awards won for oral presentations in different scientific deliberations. Prekshi has published a good number of papers and book chapters during the start of her academic career itself. Her tremendous skills and knowledge make her a good blend of biotechnology and bioinformatics.

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