Lack of exercise and a dietheavy in sugars and low in nutrients are likely contributors to therise in certain cancers among the young. (Photo:Shutterstock)

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Six out of 12 cancers related to obesity present nearly double therisk to millennials than they did to Boomers at the same age.

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So says a study appearing in The Lancet Public Health,which also looked at 18 cancers not tied to obesity; just two ofthose presented rising rates in millennials.

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Thanks to the obesity epidemic occurring over the past fourdecades, younger generations are exposed for an earlier andlonger-lasting exposure to the carcinogen of excess weight thanwere earlier generations. That likely means that they were alsoexposed to that elevated risk during early life and “crucialdevelopmental periods.”

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Related: Cancer rates are down… for wealthyAmericans

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According to Hyuna Sung, one of the study authors and principalscientist of surveillance research at the American Cancer Society,there is “quite convincing evidence” that excess body weightincreases the risks of some cancers: colorectal, uterine corpus(endometrial), gallbladder, kidney, multiple myeloma andpancreatic. All six occurred more frequently in young adults and insuccessively younger people. In addition, the risk ofcolorectal, uterine corpus, pancreatic and gall bladder cancers inmillennials is approximately twice the rate at which baby boomershad such cancers at the same age.

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“Our finding of increasing incidence in younger generations forsome obesity-related cancers has significant practical publichealth implications, especially for health-care providers andpolicy makers,” the authors write. “Despite national guidelinesrecommending screening of children and adults forobesity … fewer than half of primary care physiciansregularly assess body-mass index in their patients, and only athird of obese patients report receiving an obesity diagnosis orweight loss counselling.”

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Among 18 non-obesity-related cancers, the rates are either loweror the same for 16 of them; the exceptions are gastric non-cardiacancer and leukemia. This lower incidence includes smoking- orHIV-related cancers.

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Lack of exercise and a diet heavy in sugars and low in nutrientsare likely contributors to the rise in those cancers among theyoung, in addition to other factors.

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“Although the absolute risk of these cancers is small in youngeradults, these findings have important public health implications,”says Ahmedin Jemal, DVM Ph.D., scientific vicepresident of surveillance and health services research andsenior/corresponding author of the paper.

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Jemal adds, “Given the large increase in the prevalence ofoverweight and obesity among young people and increasing risks ofobesity-related cancers in contemporary birth cohorts, the futureburden of these cancers could worsen as younger cohorts age,potentially halting or reversing the progress achieved in reducingcancer mortality over the past several decades. Cancer trends inyoung adults often serve as a sentinel for the future diseaseburden in older adults, among whom most cancer occurs.”

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Marlene Satter

Marlene Y. Satter has worked in and written about the financial industry for decades.