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Incidence of early onset cancers—including breast, colon, esophagus, kidney, liver, and pancreas—has been dramatically increasing around the world since 1990, according to a new study by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and colleagues.

The researchers linked this rise to changes in the early life “exposome,” which encompasses an individual’s diet, lifestyle, weight, environmental exposures, and microbiome.

People around the world are eating less-healthy diets, moving less, sleeping less, and drinking more alcohol than in previous decades, the researchers noted. The risk of early onset cancer has risen in parallel, increasing with each successive generation, co-author Shuji Ogino, professor in the Department of Epidemiology, said in a September 8, 2022 Harvard Gazette article.

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Of the 14 cancers that have been on the rise in younger adults, eight are related to the digestive system, the researchers noted. “The food we eat feeds the microorganisms in our gut,” lead author Tomotaka Ugai, research fellow in the Department of Epidemiology, said in the Gazette. “Diet directly affects microbiome composition and eventually these changes can influence disease risk and outcomes.”

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Source: Harvard CHAN School of Public Health

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