Although overall cancer rates are on the decline, 9 of the 20 most common cancers in the United States are increasing more frequently in young adults aged 20–44. And those same 9 cancers are among the 13 cancers that have clear ties to obesity. In a new study published in Obesity, a researcher makes the case for a connection between the two.

The researcher conducted a comprehensive narrative literature review of more than 100 published studies describing the association of obesity with cancer in young adults. Although the findings aren’t enough to prove cause and effect, “sufficient data exists to suggest an influence of the obesity pandemic on the increase of cancer among young adults,” the author wrote.

He demonstrated that cancers traditionally associated with older adults are increasing in younger patients, with the following percentages of new diagnoses occurring in patients aged 20–44:

  • Breast cancer: 10.5%
  • Colorectal cancer: 5.8%
  • Kidney cancer: 7.8%
  • Endometrial cancer: 7.3%
  • Thyroid cancer: 23.9%
  • Liver cancer: 2.5%
  • Gastric cardia: 6.2%
  • Meningioma: 16.8%
  • Ovarian cancer: 10.6%

Additionally, the author made the case that epigenetics may be a factor in that even a person who was obese as a child but loses weight as a young adult may have lasting increased risk, similar to someone who stops smoking. In both cases, the risk drops but never to that of someone who has never smoked or been obese.

He still emphasized the importance of achieving a healthy weight. As the key point of contact for patients with cancer, oncology nurses can help start the conversation with overweight or obese young adult patients. ONS’s book A Healthcare Provider’s Guide to Cancer and Obesity will help equip healthcare providers with the tools needed to educate, encourage, and support survivors in making essential lifestyle changes to promote optimal health, longer survival, and better quality of life.

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