Doctors warn of cancer 'epidemic' among under-50s like Princess of Wales

Kate Middleton, the Princess of Wales, announced she is undergoing preventative chemotherapy after doctors diagnosed her with cancer. (Buckingham Palace)
Kate Middleton, the Princess of Wales, announced she is undergoing preventative chemotherapy after doctors diagnosed her with cancer. (Buckingham Palace)

Scientists and doctors have warned of an alarming rise in the number of cancer cases among people under the age of 50, after Kate Middleton, the Princess of Wales, announced she has been diagnosed with cancer.

Kate, 42, revealed that her doctors found cancer after she underwent major abdominal surgery. The surgery was to treat a non-cancerous condition, but the princess said in a statement that the medical team later found that cancer was present.

She did not clarify what kind of cancer was found or how severe her condition is. However, Kate reassured the nation that she was in the “early stages” of preventative chemotherapy to treat it.

A number of celebrities of similar age to Kate have also spoken out about their cancer diagnoses. Earlier this month, Olivia Munn, 43, revealed she was diagnosed with breast cancer last year and has undergone a double mastectomy.

Following the princess's announcement, Professor Andrew Beggs of Birmingham University warned that there are rising numbers of people under the age of 50, and even under 45, who are being diagnosed with some form of cancer.

Figures published by Cancer Research UK show that the incidence rate of cancer among Britons aged 25 to 49 now stands at 162.5 cases per 100,000 people each year - a 22% rise compared to the Nineties.

A young woman is doing a breast ultrasound for preventive breast cancer care
Part of the reason cancer cases are rising could be because younger people are being more proactive about their health. (Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Prof Beggs, who runs an inherited cancers clinic, said that this increase could be attributed to several reasons, such as an “unknown environmental factor that we haven’t discovered, despite extensive research”.

It could also be because the medical community is now better at detecting cancer. “Despite the challenges in the NHS, earlier diagnosis is getting better and so we detect cancers that can be treated in younger people. Our clinic is seeing a rise in young onset (less than 45 years old) cancer - and we don’t exactly know why.”

He also told the Observer that younger people are more “perceptive” about their health and more “willing to seek help at an early stage when their symptoms have first appeared” compared to the generations before them.

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, added that this, combined with improved early detection, means that “treatment is more likely to be successful” as cancers treated in the early stages have better outcomes.

“Nearly one in two of us will develop cancer during our lifetimes, but many more are affected when someone they love is diagnosed with cancer. Thanks to research there is hope – cancer survival has doubled in the last 50 years,” she said in a statement.

Doctors are working with CT scan in hospital
Doctors and scientists are concerned about the rise in cancer cases in under-50s, but early detection is key to successful treatment. (Getty Images) (Getty Images)

But there is still cause for concern about the rise, oncologist Dr Shivan Sivakumar told MSN. Dr Sivakumar, from the University of Birmingham, described the situation as an “epidemic”, adding that there is a particular rise in patients getting abdominal cancer.

Rachael Rawson, lead cancer nurse at Perci Health, confirms to Yahoo UK that cancer cases among under-50s are indeed rising at an alarming rate. She points to a global study published by BMJ Oncology, which shows that cancer cases in this age group have risen by 80% in the past 30 years.

The study, which analysed figures for early-onset cancer between 1990 and 2019, found nasopharyngeal and prostate cancer to be the fastest-increasing cancers.

The most common cancers among under-50s include breast cancer, testicular cancer, melanoma and colorectal cancer, Rawson adds.

“Factors such as diet, obesity, alcohol consumption, smoking, and lack of physical activity have been linked to this rising incidence of cancer,” she continues. “There are also additional environmental factors and genetic factors that may also play a role in this trend.”

However, it’s not all cause for worry. Rawson emphasises that up to 40% of cancers are preventable through lifestyle changes. The BMJ Oncology study also highlighted that adopting a healthier lifestyle “could reduce early-onset cancer disease burden”.

“[It’s also important to remember that], even if you are diagnosed with cancer, many people go on to live long and healthy lives following their diagnosis,” she adds. “It’s important that people take an active role in their health.”

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