Cancer cases among the under 50s have soared by 79% globally over the past three decades, new research has revealed.
While cancer tends to be more common in older people, the data suggests that cases among the under 50s have been rising in many parts of the world since the 1990s.
The study, published by BMJ Oncology, looked at data from the Global Burden of Disease 2019 Study for 29 cancers in 204 countries and regions.
They analysed new cases, deaths, health consequences and contributory risk factors for all those aged 14 to 49 to estimate annual percentage change between 1990 and 2019.
In 2019, new cancer diagnoses among the under 50s totalled 3.26 million, an increase of 79% on the 1990 figure.
Breast cancer accounted for the highest number of "early onset" cases in 2019, but cancer of the windpipe and prostate cancer have risen the fastest since 1990. Liver cancer cases saw the biggest fall.
Cancers with the heaviest death toll and compromising health the most among younger adults in 2019 were those of the breast, windpipe, lung, bowel, and stomach.
Researchers said it’s still not clear to what extent screening and early life exposure to environmental factors may be influencing the observed trends, but forecast the trend will continue with those in their 40s the most at risk.
The UK's most common cancers
One in two people will develop some type of cancer during their lifetime. While this can feel scary, it also gives an incentive to pay more attention to possible symptoms of the disease, to help catch anything early, and hopefully have a better outcome.
Of course, there are hundreds of different types of cancer, making it hard to be aware of each one, but having a basic understanding of the four most common types in the UK – breast, prostate, lung and bowel cancer – is a good place to start.
1. Breast cancer
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK, accounting for three in 20 (15%) of all cases in females and males combined.
The best way to discover any symptoms is to check them regularly for changes and look out for a lump or area of thickened breast tissue. While lumps are likely not cancerous, if found, it's important to have them examined professionally.
Other than lumps, symptoms to look out for include:
a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
discharge from either of your nipples (which may contain blood)
a lump or swelling in either of your armpits, dimples
a rash around the nipple, and a change in the nipple's appearance
2. Prostate cancer
Prostate cancer is often very slow to develop, so people may live with it for a few years without noticing any symptoms at all.
According to the NHS, prostate cancer symptoms can include:
needing to pee more frequently, often during the night
needing to rush to the toilet
difficulty in starting to pee (hesitancy)
straining or taking a long time while peeing
feeling that your bladder has not emptied fully
blood in urine or blood in semen
For some men the first symptoms of prostate cancer occur when it has spread beyond the prostate gland to the bones and these can include back pain, loss of appetite, pain in the testicles and unexplained weight loss.
Whatever pain, discomfort or symptoms you feel, it is always best to discuss these with your GP.
3. Lung cancer
Another common type is lung cancer, which is also one of the most serious, affecting around 47,000 people in the UK every year.
In terms of spotting symptoms early, it can be more tricky with this type of cancer as they usually don't show in early stages.
However, many people with lung cancer will eventually develop symptoms that might include:
a persistent cough
coughing up blood
unexplained tiredness and weight loss
an ache or pain when coughing.
4. Bowel cancer
Bowel cancer is the overall term given to cancer that begins in the large bowel – depending on where it starts, it is sometimes called colon or rectal cancer.
Almost nine in 10 people diagnosed with bowel cancer are aged 60 or over, with contributing factors to the disease including age, diet, weight, exercise, alcohol, smoking, and family history.
The main symptoms are:
persistent blood in poo (that doesn't occur for any obvious reason)
a persistent change in your bowel habit (e.g. needing to poo more, or it changing in consistency)
persistent lower tummy pain, bloating or discomfort (caused by eating, and may be associated with loss of appetite or significant unintentional weight loss).
If you are nervous about speaking to your GP about any of the above symptoms, or any other possible cancer signs, you can seek advice about how to prepare and what questions to ask at the appointment, as well as discuss any other cancer concerns, by calling Macmillan's helpline on 0808 808 00 00.
Additional reporting SWNS.