Queen Stewart, a devoted mother of two and a lawyer, received devastating news at the young age of 35. She discovered a lump in her breast herself because, like many at her age, she was not eligible for insurance-paid cancer screenings.
“I just cried, and I just worried so much about whether I would be here for my girls,” Stewart shared with CBS News.
A recent study published in BMJ Oncology has shed light on a concerning global trend: cancer rates among individuals under the age of 50 are soaring. The research, which analyzed data from 204 countries spanning from 1990 to 2019, paints a troubling picture. In 2019, there were over 3.26 million cases of early-onset cancer reported across these countries, compared to 1.82 million in 1990, representing a staggering increase of 79.1%.
Early-onset cancer is defined as a diagnosis occurring between the ages of 14 and 49. Furthermore, the study found that early-onset cancer deaths also witnessed a significant rise, climbing from approximately 800,000 in 1990 to 1.06 million in 2019.
Breast cancer emerged as the most prevalent early-onset cancer in 2019, accounting for 16.5% of cases and 12.84% of early-onset cancer deaths. On the other hand, early-onset prostate cancer and nasopharyngeal cancer showed the most rapid increases in incident rates among all types of cancer over the 30-year period studied.
Dr. Christopher Flowers, an oncologist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, expressed astonishment at these statistics, calling them “remarkable.” While genetics does contribute to this surge in early-onset cancer cases, the study emphasized the significant roles played by poor diet, alcohol and tobacco consumption, physical inactivity, and obesity.
The study’s findings underscore the crucial role of lifestyle factors in cancer risk. “Dietary risk factors (diet high in red meat, low in fruits, high in sodium, and low in milk, etc.), alcohol consumption, and tobacco use are the main risk factors underlying early-onset cancers,” the study concluded.
Additionally, the availability of medical care in different regions can influence the number of cases and deaths. Dr. Flowers emphasized the importance of screening, particularly for cancers that can be detected early. In the United States, recommendations for cancer screenings have been adjusted recently, with the recommended age for colon cancer screenings lowered from 50 to 45 and breast cancer screenings lowered from 50 to 40.
The study’s projections are disconcerting, indicating that early-onset cancer rates are expected to surge by 31% by 2030, accompanied by a 21% increase in cancer-related deaths.
However, amidst these troubling statistics, there are stories of resilience and hope. Queen Stewart underwent a challenging journey, including a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation, but she is now in remission. She reflects on her experience as a newfound appreciation for life and the importance of living in the present.
“It had me create a sense of urgency in my life to live now, to find joy, to be more present for my family,” Stewart shared, emphasizing the importance of cherishing each moment.