Obesity is driving Millennials’ cancer rates up

Rates of cancer are rising five times faster in millennials ‘because they’re fatter than their parents’

  • The American Cancer Society studied more than 14million cancer cases
  • They found obesity-related diseases are rising fastest among younger adults
  • And they warn rates could soar in the future as unhealthy young people get old 
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Rates of cancer are rising quicker in millennials because they’re fatter than previous generations, scientists say.

Obesity-related cancers – including bowel, womb and pancreatic – are significantly increasing in under-50s, suggesting numbers will soar in decades to come.

Experts warned it is further evidence of a time bomb which threatens to reverse decades of progress in cancer survival.

Two thirds of Britons are now overweight and more than a quarter of the population is obese. Being fat is one of the biggest avoidable causes of cancer.

Pancreatic cancer cases rose by 4.34 per cent a year among 25 to 29-year-olds over the last two decades. This is 5.6 times higher than the 0.77 per cent in those aged 45 to 49. 

The American Cancer Society study found the number of people diagnosed with obesity-related cancers is rising at a faster rate in millennials than in older generations

Researchers from the American Cancer Society studied cancer data covering half of the US population between 1995 and 2014.

They looked at 14,672,409 cases involving 30 of the most common cancer types, including 12 obesity-related cancers.

Patients were divided into five-year age groups from 25-29 to 80-84 years old.

Researchers found diagnoses significantly increased over the 20 years in half of the cancers linked to obesity – with the rises steeper in younger groups.

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While cases were still far more common in older people, scientists say the growing trend in younger patients is likely to reflect rising obesity levels.

Dr Ahmedin Jemal, from the American Cancer Society, said: ‘Our findings expose a recent change that could serve as a warning of an increased burden of obesity-related cancers to come in older adults.


Obese people will not definitely develop cancer but they are at a higher risk than people who are a healthy weight.

This is because fat cells are active in the body, releasing hormones and electrical signals which encourage cells to divide and grow.

Cancer is caused by an error in cell division which results in them multiplying uncontrollably and building up into tumours.

The more active cells a person has in their body, the higher the chance of one of them going rogue and triggering this chain reaction.

Obesity is also often associated with an unhealthy lifestyle – eating junk food and not getting enough fruit, vegetables or exercise – factors which are separate but linked and also known to increase the risk of cancer.

Source: Cancer Research UK 

‘Most cancers occur in older adults, which means that as the young people in our study age, the burden of obesity-related cancer cases and deaths are likely to increase even more.

‘On the eve of World Cancer Day, it’s timely to consider what can be done to avert the impending rise.’

Obesity is now one of the most preventable causes of cancer, responsible for around one in 20 cases in the UK and one in 12 in the US.

The study found rates of the blood cancer multiple myeloma and cancers of the bowel, womb, gallbladder, kidney, pancreas, and thyroid all increased in adults aged between 25 and 49.

They also rose in older adults, except for bowel cancer, but by a smaller percentage.

The younger the age group, the greater the size of the increase in all seven of the cancer types except for thyroid cancer.

For example, in pancreatic cancer the average annual change was equal to or less than one per cent in people aged 40 to 84, 1.3 per cent in those aged 35 to 39, and 2.5 per cent in 30 to 34-year-olds.

In the youngest age group, 25 to 29 years, it was 4.3 per cent.

Dr Jemal said: ‘Over the past few decades, death rates have been in decline for most cancers, but in the future obesity could reverse that progress, barring any interventions.

‘Younger generations are experiencing earlier and longer-lasting exposure to excess fat and to obesity-related health conditions that can increase cancer risk.’

Experts said more research is needed to explore what is causing the rising rates because this study does not prove obesity is the only reason.

The research was published in the journal The Lancet Public Health. 

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