Rise in Cancer Rates among Young People Contributes to New Phenomenon of ‘Turbo Cancers’ as a Cause for Concern
Clinical laboratories and pathologists should expect to receive increase referrals from oncologists with younger patients
More people are getting serious cases of cancer at younger and younger ages. So much so that some anatomic pathologists and epidemiologists are using the term “Turbo Cancers” to describe “the recent emergence of aggressive cancers that grow very quickly,” Vigilant News reported.
Cancer continues to be the second leading cause of death in the United States and current trends of the disease appearing in younger populations are causing alarm among medical professionals and scientists.
“Because these cancers have been occurring in people who are too young to get them, basically, compared to the normal way it works, they’ve been designated as turbo cancers,” Harvey Risch, MD, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Epidemiology in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at the Yale School of Public Health and Yale School of Medicine, in an interview with Epoch TV’s American Thought Leaders.
It’s anatomic pathologists who receive the biopsies and analyze them to diagnose the cancer. Thus, they are on the front lines of seeing an increased number of biopsies for younger patients showing up with the types of cancers that normally take many years to grow large enough to be discovered by imaging and lumps leading to biopsy and diagnosis. It’s a medical mystery that may have long term effects on younger populations.
“What clinicians have been seeing is very strange things,” said Harvey Risch, MD, PhD (above), Professor Emeritus of Epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health and Yale School of Medicine, in an Epoch TV interview. “For example, 25-year-olds with colon cancer, who don’t have family histories of the disease—that’s basically impossible along the known paradigm for how colon cancer works—and other long-latency cancers that they’re seeing in very young people.” Epidemiologists and anatomic pathologists are describing these conditions as “turbo cancers.” (Photo copyright: Yale University.)
Early-Onset Cancer Rates Jump Sharply
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 3.3 million Americans died in 2022, and 607,800 of those deaths were attributed to cancer. This statistic translates to approximately 18.4% of US deaths being due to cancer last year.
An article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association titled, “Patterns in Cancer Incidence among People Younger than 50 Years in the US, 2010 to 2019,” states that the rates of cancer in people under the age of 50 has risen sharply in recent years. The study found that “the incidence rates of early-onset cancer increased from 2010 to 2019. Although breast cancer had the highest number of incident cases, gastrointestinal cancers had the fastest-growing incidence rates among all early-onset cancers.”
The largest increase in cancer diagnoses occurred in people in the 30 to 39-year-old age group. This number represents a jump of almost 20% for the years analyzed for individuals in that demographic. The researchers also found that cancer rates decreased in individuals over the age of 50.
“We are already seeing younger patients,” John Ricci, MD, Chief of Colorectal Surgery at Long Island Jewish Medical Center told US News and World Report. “We used to say 40s was extremely abnormal, but we’re definitely seeing more [cases] in the 30s than we had before.”
Breast cancer, which increased by about 8% in younger people, accounted for the most diagnoses in this age group. However, the biggest increase was 15% for gastrointestinal cancers, including colon, appendix, bile duct, and pancreatic cancer.
Because cancer can recur or progress, researchers have concerns about what happens to young cancer patients as they grow older and what effect cancer may have on their lives.
“They are at a transitional stage in life,” Chun Chao, PhD, Research Scientist, Division of Epidemiologic Research at Kaiser Permanente, told The Hill. “If you think about it, this is the age when people are trying to establish their independence. Some people are finishing up their education. People are trying to get their first job, just start to establish their career. And people are starting new families and starting to have kids. So, at this particular age, having a cancer diagnosis can be a huge disruption to these goals.”
Lifestyle a Factor in Increased Risk for Cancer
“The increase in early-onset cancers is likely associated with the increasing incidence of obesity as well as changes in environmental exposures, such as smoke and gasoline, sleep patterns, physical activity, microbiota, and transient exposure to carcinogenic compounds,” according to the JAMA study.
“Suspected risk factors may involve increasing obesity among children and young adults; also the drastic change in our diet, like increasing consumption of sugar, sweetened beverages, and high fat,” Hyuna Sung, PhD, Cancer Surveillance Researcher at the American Cancer Society, told US News and World Report. “The increase in cancers among young adults has significant implications. It is something we need to consider as a bellwether for future trends.”
“Increased efforts are required to combat the risk factors for early-onset cancer, such as obesity, heavy alcohol consumption, and smoking,” said Daniel Huang, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the National University of Singapore, one of the authors of the study, in the US News and World Report interview.
Other studies also have shown a rise in so-called turbo cancers.
“Cancer as a disease takes a long time to manifest itself from when it starts. From the first cells that go haywire until they grow to be large enough to be diagnosed, or to be symptomatic, can take anywhere from two or three years for the blood cancers—like leukemias and lymphomas—to five years for lung cancer, to 20 years for bladder cancer, or 30 to 35 years for colon cancer, and so on,” Risch told the Epoch Times.
Not the Occurrence Oncologists Expect
“Some of these cancers are so aggressive that between the time that they’re first seen and when they come back for treatment after a few weeks, they’ve grown dramatically compared to what oncologists would have expected,” Risch continued. “This is just not the normal occurrence of how cancer works.”
Risch believes that damage to the immune system is the most likely cause of the rise in turbo cancers. He said the immune system usually recognizes, manages, and disables cancer cells so they cannot progress. However, when the immune system is impaired, cancer cells can multiply to the point where the immune system cannot cope with the number of bad cells.
It is a statistical fact that more people are being diagnosed with serious cases of cancer at younger and younger ages. If this trend continues, clinical laboratories and pathologists can expect to see more oncology case referrals and perform more cancer diagnostic tests for younger patients.