California County’s Cancer Rates Rising Among Under-50 Citizens

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Rising cancer rates are concerning as the illness tends to be more aggressive in younger people, report says.

California’s Orange County is seeing high cancer rates among younger people, a trend that’s being blamed on lifestyle and environmental factors.

“Orange County has the highest overall rate of cancer incidence in people under 50, compared to Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego and San Bernardino counties,” said a March 12 report from cancer research group City of Hope. “The incidence rates for cancer in people under 50 in Orange County are the most pronounced in breast, colon, and lung cancer.” The surging cancer rate is concerning “especially because cancer in younger people tends to be more aggressive.”

Orange County ranks 13th in the state in terms of breast cancer rates among women under the age of 50. For colon cancer rates in those under 50 years, the county ranks at the 25th position. For lung cancer in women under 50 years of age, the county ranked fifth.

“This is a startling paradigm shift,” said Dr. Edward S. Kim, physician-in-chief at City of Hope Orange County. “We are seeing a deeply concerning rise in adult early-onset cancer. It is imperative to identify the reasons behind this trend, educate the public, advance prevention and early diagnosis, and develop more effective treatments.”

One reason for the rise in cancer rates is better screening, the report said. However, there is “substantial evidence” that environmental factors are playing a role in early-onset cancer, defined as cancer occurring among individuals aged 18 to 49 years.

“We cannot deny that a wide range of environmental factors—called ‘the exposome’—have rapidly changed in developed countries since the mid-20th century. Admittedly, controlling some of these environmental conditions is difficult,” Dr. Kim said.

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“There is evidence that some toxic exposures happen as early as in the womb or even in preconception germ cells. However, we have reason to believe changes to diet and lifestyle, especially in youth and early adulthood, could make a significant difference.”

The report pointed to the American Cancer Society’s finding that lifestyle exposures that began with Americans born after 1950 are likely behind the sharp increase in colon cancer.

Dr. Misagh Karimi, a medical oncologist at the City of Hope Orange County Lennar Foundation Cancer Center who specializes in colon cancer, attributed the trend to sedentary lifestyles as well as the consumption of processed foods and alcohol.

“We see that about half of our younger patients diagnosed with colon cancer are overweight,” he pointed out.

The report stressed the importance of taking care of the gut microbiome. These are the trillions of microorganisms present in the intestines that assist in food digestion. They are responsible for absorbing vitamins and regulating the immune system.

It suggested not eating ultra-processed foods, avoiding smoking, not drinking alcohol, and exercising to prevent obesity as ways to improve microbiome health. “Processed foods bought from stores are now 60 percent of most American adult diets.”

Expanding cancer research efforts among younger individuals is also critical, the report stated. Current restrictions like age limitations tend to exclude certain populations from clinical studies on cancer. This hampers the understanding of cancer among these groups.

Annette M. Walker, president of City of Hope Orange County, said she is encouraged by changes made to screening guidelines, lowering the recommended age of getting colon cancer screenings from 50 to 45 and mammograms from 50 to 40.

Rising Cancer Rates

According to data from the National Cancer Institute, the incidence rate of cancer in Orange County among people less than 50 years of age was 98.3 per 100,000 individuals between 2016 and 2020. This was higher than the 93.4 per 100,000 individuals for the state of California.

Every year, roughly 12,800 people younger than 50 are diagnosed with some form of cancer in the Southern California region, which includes roughly 2,000 from Orange County alone, according to The Orange County Register.

Speaking to the outlet, Dr. Kim said that almost 20 percent of patients visiting them were under the age of 50. He suspects the involvement of cancer-causing local genetic variants.

“I wish I could tell you there were some patterns of presentation, symptoms or lifestyle tendencies. And we just haven’t seen that. Most people who present to us have some nonspecific symptoms.” Such symptoms can involve inexplicable weight loss or discomfort.

“We don’t have a pattern there yet, but the pattern that we are seeing for sure is that there are definitely younger people showing up into our cancer clinics,” he said.

In a January report, the American Cancer Society (ACS) estimated that new cancer cases in the United States will exceed 2 million this year to hit a record high.

Even though the risk of death from cancer has declined, the number of incidences has been rising for six common types of cancer—breast, endometrial, melanoma, kidney, prostate, and pancreatic.

The report identified rising colorectal cancer among individuals under the age of 55 and cervical cancer among women in the age group of 30 to 40. ACS’s estimates were based on data from 2006 to 2020.

In an interview with The Epoch Times, Dr. Harvey Risch, professor emeritus in epidemiology at Yale University, pointed out that this means the numbers published in the report “do not have information on possible COVID virus- or vaccine-related effects on cancer incidence.”

COVID vaccine rollouts began at the end of 2020. As such, “relying on the older data to estimate recent incidence would not be reliable.”

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