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Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

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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.

Harvey Risch, MD, PhD

“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.”

Sadly, young cancer survivors have a heightened risk of developing a second cancer and a variety of other health conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases and metabolic disorders.

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. 

JP Schlingman

Related Information:

Cancer Cases Are Rising among Younger Americans: ‘Alarming’ Trend

Patterns in Cancer Incidence among People Younger than 50 Years in the US, 2010 to 2019

A Common Cancer at an Uncommon Age

Top Doctor Explains Why “Turbo Cancer” Rates Are Likely to Get Even Worse

Cancer Rates Are Climbing Among Young People. It’s Not Clear Why.

Provisional Mortality Data—United States, 2022

Cancers, Especially Gastro Tumors, Are Rising Among Americans under 50

Understanding Gen Z’s Approach to Healthcare Helps Clinical Laboratories Learn How to Better Meet Their Needs

Healthcare providers of all types will benefit from acknowledging Gen Z’s preference for digital interactions, self-testing, and over-the-counter medications

Each generation has its own unique connection to how it manages its health, and the latest studies into the healthcare habits of Generation Z (aka, Gen Z or Zoomers) are providing valuable insight that savvy clinical laboratory managers and pathologists—in fact all healthcare providers—can use to better serve their Gen Z patients.

According to McKinsey and Company, Gen Z’s “identity has been shaped by the digital age, climate anxiety, a shifting financial landscape, and COVID-19.” And Pew Research states that Zoomers “are also digital natives who have little or no memory of the world as it existed before smartphones.”

As the largest demographic, “Gen Z stands 2.6 billion members strong. … Globally, they hold purchasing power of more than $500 billion and mobile buying power of $143 billion,” wrote Stacy Rapacon, Managing Editor at Senior Executive Media, in an article she penned for HP’s The Garage.

Meeting Gen Zers’ healthcare needs on their terms would seem to be a judicious choice.

Bernhard Schroeder

“Gen-Z’s buying power may exceed $3 trillion,” wrote Bernhard Schroeder (above), a clinical lecturer on integrated/online marketing at San Diego State University, in Forbes. “Their spending ability exceeds the gross domestic product of all but about 25 of the world’s countries.” Thus, it behooves healthcare leaders, including clinical laboratory managers and pathologists, to consider how best to approach treating Gen Z patients. (Photo copyright: San Diego State University.)

Gen Z Leads in Digital Healthcare Use, Self-testing, OTC Drugs

“Gen Z engages in every type of digital healthcare activity more than other generations,” a recent study by PYMNTS noted. A total of 2,735 consumers were surveyed, and though all reported using digital healthcare to some degree, Gen Z stood out.

Patient portal access was the highest digital method accessed by Zoomers (62%), followed by telemedicine appointment usage (55%), the PYMNTS report found.

Knowing the direction Gen Z is trending may lead clinical laboratory leaders to expect self-testing to be on the rise, and that hunch would be correct. “There are two converging trends; the rise of women’s health technology and increased use of at-home sample collection for diagnosis tests,” Clinical Lab Products reported.

“Ongoing innovation in these areas could significantly improve the accessibility of women’s health testing. It will also have repercussions for labs, potentially changing the way samples are received and processed, and the way results are distributed. The quantity and quality of samples may be impacted, too. It’s important for labs to be aware of likely developments so they can prepare, and potentially collaborate with the health technology companies driving change,” CLP noted.

Another area feeling the impact of Gen Z’s healthcare spending is the over-the-counter (OTC) drug market.

“Since the pandemic began, more Americans are paying closer attention to their symptoms and looking for easily accessible information about over-the-counter medications, especially for allergies, coughs, and headaches,” said Kim Castro, Editor and Chief Content Officer for US News and World Report, in a press release.

Zoomers Want Healthcare on Their Own Terms

Gen Z grew up with the internet, Amazon, Netflix, Google, and social media since birth.

“The ‘norm’ they experienced as children was a world that operated at speed, scale, and scope. They developed an early facility with powerful digital tools that allowed them to be self-reliant as well as collaborative,” anthropologist Roberta Katz, PhD, a senior research scholar at Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) told Stanford News.

As digital natives, Gen Z can be more science and data driven and yet still expect to find health advice on YouTube or TikTok. According to an article published by Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare, “Gen Z is the first generation to grow up surrounded by digital devices, and they expect their health benefits to be digital, too. From choosing a benefits package to finding a provider, Gen Z wants to take care of their health on their own terms. And that may just include video chatting with a doctor from the back of an Uber.”

In its 2022 US Digital Health Survey, research firm Insider Intelligence found that “Half of Gen Z adults turn to social media platforms for health-related purposes, either all the time or often.”

“Gen-Z will make up 31% of the world’s population by 2021 and they have deeply formed perceptions and beliefs … This has led to an amazing change in the way Gen-Z is disrupting several industries simultaneously,” wrote Bernhard Schroeder (above), a clinical lecturer on integrated/online marketing at San Diego State University, in Forbes.

What Can Clinical Laboratories Learn from These Findings

Gen Z seeks accuracy and trustworthy information. “Gen-Zers’ natural penchant for skepticism and frugality—coupled with low levels of confidence in the US healthcare system—makes them less likely to trust providers, more likely to research prices before seeking care, and more apt to worry that their health insurance won’t cover their treatment,” Insider Intelligence noted.

According to Contract Pharma, “Gen Z is concerned with holistic health and self-care, rather than a one size fits all pharmaceutical approach. They share a hesitancy for traditional healthcare models but with very interesting differences. By understanding these differences, the consumer healthcare industry can focus on agile and distinctive brands to harness Gen Z’s tremendous purchasing power.”

Savvy clinical laboratory leaders can better serve their Gen-Z client physicians and patients by better understanding why Zoomers are more inclined to order their own lab tests (without a physician), collect their own specimens to send into labs, and/or collect their own specimens to do home testing (think COVID-19 self-test kits). Zoomers may need an entirely new business model from their healthcare providers, including clinical laboratories.

Kristin Althea O’Connor

Related Information:

What is Gen Z?

On the Cusp of Adulthood and Facing an Uncertain Future: What We Know about Gen Z So Far

How Gen Z is Redefining Their World through Technology

Gen Z Is ‘Generation Digital Health’ as 62% Use Digital Patient Portals

What Self-Sampling for Women’s Health Testing Means for Labs

US News Top Recommended Over-the-Counter Health Products

Gen Z Are Not ‘Coddled.’ They Are Highly Collaborative, Self-Reliant and Pragmatic, According to New Stanford-Affiliated Research

Who is Gen Z and How Are They Shaping the Future of Health Benefits?

Generation Z: Transforming Consumer Healthcare

Gen Z’s Take on Healthcare

US Generation Z Healthcare Behaviors

US News and World Report Ranks Clinical Laboratory Technician 17th Best Healthcare Support Job

High demand for medical laboratory technicians that exists throughout the country motivates some colleges to create training programs to meet this need

Clinical laboratory technicians will be interested to learn that US News and World Report (USNWR) recently ranked their work the 17th Best Healthcare Support Job and 86th of 100 in the magazine’s list of Best Jobs in 2023. The position also ranked “average” in upward mobility and flexibility, but “above average” in stress level. This squares with Dark Daily’s previous reporting on high levels of stress clinical laboratories are still experiencing following the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

The median pay, according to USNWR, is $57,800/year and can be as high as $74,530/year. The best paying cities for clinical laboratory technicians are all in California: Redding, Napa, Merced, San Jose, and San Francisco. And the best paying states are New York ($72,500), Rhode Island ($70,580), Connecticut ($70,220), Oregon ($69,330), and California ($68,450).

In comparison to similar jobs in healthcare, clinical laboratory technician earnings exceed Medical Records Technicians, but come in lower than MRI Technologists, Radiologic Technologists, and Cardiovascular Technologists, USNWR noted.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a division of the US Department of Labor, projects the clinical laboratory technician position will grow by 7% between 2021-2031.

Salary graphic

The graphic above, taken from the US News and World Report’s list of “Best Healthcare Support Jobs in 2023,” illustrates how the base salary for clinical laboratory technicians has risen over the past 10 years. Projections are positive for earnings and availability of clinical laboratory positions continuing to grow around the nation. (Graphic copyright: US News and World Report.)

Clinical Laboratory Technician a Growing Profession

The US News and World Report’s definition of this job drew heavily on the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook for its description of the position “Clinical Laboratory Technician.” The Labor Department clearly defines the difference between a clinical laboratory “technician” and “technologist” and USNWR carried that over into its analysis.

Accordingly, USNWR described this job category by stating “Clinical laboratory technicians are responsible for a number of tasks, including examining body fluids and cells and matching blood for transfusions. The job requires the use of sophisticated laboratory equipment, such as microscopes and cell counters. With continued advancements in technology, lab work has become more analytical, so laboratory personnel should have excellent judgment skills. More complex procedures are reserved for clinical laboratory technologists, who must possess a bachelor’s degree. Technicians, who must hold at least an associate degree, often work under the supervision of technologists.”

Demand for clinical laboratory technicians spans the country and appears to be increasing.

In “Filling Another Labor Gap; Medical Labs,” the Quad-City Times reports that the Trinity College of Nursing and Health Sciences in Rock Island, Illinois, has unveiled a new program to meet that need: the Medical Laboratory Science Program.

The program is the result of a local hospital querying Trinity College about implementing just a program.

“It’s been about a year and a half now, getting it up and rolling,” Stephanie Tieso, MS, MLS(ASCP)CM, Program Director Med Lab Sciences, Trinity College, told Quad-City Times. “I know both big hospital systems in the area are very excited about this coming on, and there’s definitely chatter in the lab community about this new program opening.”

Trinity’s program will be the only one of its kind within a 90-mile radius. The initial cohort will consist of 10 students. The Quad-City Times reports “Program majors will earn a Bachelor of Health Sciences degree and qualify to take the MLS certification exam upon program completion and graduation.”

The creation of this program at Trinity College of Nursing and Health Sciences is just one example of programs that could be needed all over the US in the coming years as demand for clinical laboratory workers grows.

Job Outlook Good but Burnout a Possibility

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook states, “About 25,600 openings for clinical laboratory technologists and technicians are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.” However, the shortage may also be due to the well-reported worker burnout being experienced across the entire healthcare industry which was exacerbated by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

As Dark Daily reported in “Clinical Laboratory Technician Shares Personal Journey and Experience with Burnout During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” burnout in healthcare is a constant problem, especially in overstressed clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups.

This ebrief follows the story of Susanna Bator, a former clinical laboratory technician with the Cleveland Clinic and with MetroHealth System in Cleveland, Ohio. Bator shared her story of working in various laboratories during the coronavirus pandemic in an essay she wrote for Daily Nurse titled, “The Hidden Healthcare Heroes: A Lab Tech’s Journey Through the Pandemic.” Bator’s essay is a personalized, human look at the strain clinical laboratory technicians were put under during the pandemic. Her story presents the quandary of how to keep these critical frontline healthcare workers from experiencing burnout and leaving the field.

“We techs were left unsupported and unmentored throughout the pandemic. No one cared if we were learning or growing in our job, and there was little encouragement for us to enter training or residency programs. We were just expendable foot soldiers: this is not a policy that leads to long-term job retention,” she wrote.

This validates US News and World Report’s statistic that the work of clinical laboratory technicians comes with an “above average” level of stress. For those who can handle it, however, the job has many benefits and provides multiple opportunities for growth.

But the burnout Bator and other techs encountered is very real. Hopefully more training programs like the one at Trinity College will become available to provide the learning and support lab techs need as we move into post-pandemic healthcare. As the US News and World Report article shows, clinical laboratory technicians are filling a critical need in the laboratory industry and new training programs will be instrumental to their success.

Ashley Croce

Related Information:

Best Health Care Support Jobs

What is a Clinical Laboratory Technician?

The Mental Health of Healthcare Workers in COVID-19

Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians

Filling Another Labor Gap; Medical Labs

Clinical Laboratory Technician Shares Personal Journey and Experience with Burnout During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Hidden Healthcare Heroes: A Lab Techs Journey Through the Pandemic

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