Obesity, alcohol, and a lack of exercise could all be behind a shocking rise in the number of bowel cancer deaths among young people in the UK.
The numbers of people in the UK aged between 25 and 49 dying from the disease have risen 39 percent in women and 26 percent in men compared to 2018.
Increases will also be seen in EU countries – particularly Germany, Spain, Italy, and Poland – although they will not be as drastic as in the UK.
Currently, in both the UK and the EU, bowel cancer is the second biggest killer of men after lung cancer and the third biggest killer of women after lung and breast cancer.
Among non-smokers, it is the leading cause of cancer death in both sexes for all ages combined.
“Key factors that contribute to the rise in bowel cancer rates among young people include being overweight, obesity, and related health conditions, such as high blood sugar levels and diabetes,” said lead researcher Carlo La Vecchia, a professor at the University of Milan.
“Additional reasons are increases in heavier alcohol drinking over time and reductions in physical activity.”
Professor La Vecchia explained that alcohol has been specifically linked to early onset bowel cancer because in countries which have seen a reduction in consumption, such as France, there have not been such marked rises in death rates.
“Early onset bowel cancer tends to be more aggressive, with lower survival rates, compared to bowel cancer that is diagnosed in older people,” he said.
While bowel cancer is on the rise among young people, though, overall death rates from the disease are expected to fall in the UK and the EU.
Professor La Vecchia and his colleagues predicted that in 2024, overall bowel cancer death rates will be down by five percent in men and nine percent in women in comparison to 2018.
In the UK, they are predicted to fall by three percent in men but remain stable in women.
These favorable trends across all ages can be explained by improved diagnosis and better treatment, according to Professor La Vecchia’s study, published in the journal Annals of Oncology.
“Death rates tended to decrease in countries with better access to screening and early diagnosis,” he said.
“However, the increased mortality among young people is a concern.”
The Italian research team also looked at death rates from other cancers across all countries in the EU and in the UK.
Deaths from lung cancer – one of the biggest cancer killers – will fall by 15 per cent in men in the EU in 2024 when compared with 2018.
There will be no change among women in the EU.
In the UK, lung cancer death rates will reduce by 22 per cent in men and 17 per cent in women respectively.
Figures show that breast cancer death rates are improving across Europe – with a six per cent fall in the EU and an 11 per cent fall in the UK.
Co-leader of the study, Professor Eva Negri from the University of Bologna, said: “Advances in the diagnosis of breast cancer contribute to these substantial declines in death rates, but improvements in the treatment and management of the disease are the main reasons for more people surviving.”
One of the most difficult cancers to detect and treat – pancreatic cancer – will unfortunately see no improvements when it comes to death rates in the EU in 2024.
Researchers say that rates will rise by 1.6 per cent among men and by 4 per cent among women.
Trends are more hopeful in the UK, however, with deaths predicted to fall by seven per cent among men and two per cent among women.
Prof Negri said: “Smoking is the main risk factor for pancreatic cancer, but it only partly explains the increased death rates over time.
“Overweight, obesity, diabetes, and heavy alcohol consumption may also play a role.”
Meanwhile, death rates across all cancers will fall in the EU when compared with 2018 – by 6.5 per cent in men and four per cent fall in women.
They will also decrease in the UK – by nearly 14 per cent in men and by 10 per cent in women.
But, while rates will fall, the actual number of deaths will rise due to ageing populations.
Approximately 1.2 million people across the UK and the EU are predicted to die from cancer in 2024.
Professor La Vecchia said that the study highlights the need to reduce smoking and alcohol consumption across Europe.
He explained: “These predictions underline the importance of controlling and, ultimately, eliminating tobacco use.
“Tobacco remains responsible for 25 percent of all cancer deaths among men and 15 percent among women in the EU.
“It is not only the main risk factor for deaths from lung cancer, but also for several other cancers, including pancreatic cancer.
“Controlling the rise in heavy alcohol drinking in central and northern Europe is an additional issue.”
Professor La Vecchia added that governments should consider policies to encourage more exercise in order to reduce the number of people who are overweight and obese.
The study also urged governments across Europe to extend cancer screenings to younger people and to close the gaps between countries when it comes to diagnosis and treatment.
“In terms of prevention, governments should consider the extension of screening for bowel cancer to younger ages, starting at age 45,” Professor La Vecchia said.
“Our predictions also highlight the importance of closing the gaps between countries across Europe in relation to cancer diagnosis and treatment.
“Death rates continue to be higher in Poland and other central and eastern European countries, and this is due partly to inadequate screening programs to detect cancers such as breast, cervical, and colorectal, as well as lack of access to the most modern therapies.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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