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Doctors warn of rise in rate of cancer among young people

SEATTLE — It seems like people are getting diagnosed with cancer at younger and younger ages. Doctors confirm that is indeed happening.

"The rate of cancer in young adults worldwide has been going up at a rate of about 1% to 2% per year over at least the last three decades," said Dr. Donald Karcher, president of the College of American Pathologists.

Karcher said there's probably no single cause, but a combination of things, that's leading to the increase, including diet, lifestyle factors and things young people are exposed to.

"We know that a high fat, low fiber diet or a diet high in ultra processed foods, things like cold cuts and diet sodas, that's associated now with cancer, lack of exercise, obesity," Karcher said. "That's associated with certain cancer types. Smoking, we know, is associated with lung cancer, but it may also be associated with at least eight other types of cancer. Alcohol consumption, exposure to sunlight because of skin cancer."

Even things like over exposure to certain medications can take a toll.

"Some we know are associated with cancer," Karcher said. "Some we didn't suspect, like antibiotics, might be contributing to this because of the effect that they have on the microorganisms that normally live in our gut."

Karcher says from breast cancer to colon cancer, even kidney and pancreatic cancer, doctors are seeing an increase in all cancers in young adults. He says to watch out of symptoms.

"Things like a swelling or a lump or unexplained pain or unexplained weight loss, persistent fatigue, change in bowel habits, blood in the stool or in the urine, chronic cough or chronic hoarseness, even a change in a skin lesion like a mole," Karcher said.

The other important thing to do is screening tests, he says. For women with an average risk of breast cancer, they should now start having mammograms at age 40, he added.

For young women with a higher-than-average risk of breast cancer, according to Karcher, they should start even earlier. For cervical cancer, screening with pap tests and or HPV screening tests should start at age 21. Colon cancer screenings should start at age 45, unless you have a higher-than-average risk, then those screenings should start even earlier. These are screenings that could save your life, Karcher said.

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