Exploring the Rise in Cancer: Diagnoses, Lifestyles, and Environmental Factors

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In this segment of my ‘Ask Me Anything’ series available on my social channels, I explore the reasons behind the rising number of cancer diagnoses, considering various factors from improved detection methods to lifestyle changes….

“Why do you think so many diagnosed with cancer? Environmental, lifestyle, or are we just hearing about it more?”

I think that cancer rates are increasing for many reasons.

The biggest contributor is probably increased diagnoses, all else equal. Basically, we have more advanced medical technology and better understandings of how cancer expresses, leading to more diagnoses of cancer even if nothing else would have changed. This is especially true of early-stage cancers.

Maybe 50 years ago, if 10 people had cancer, we’d only diagnose 5 of them. What I’m saying is that today, if we assume only 10 people still had cancer, 8 of them would be diagnosed simply because we are better at spotting it.

Of course, true cancer rates (whether we spot it or not) have also risen for many reasons, which should be no surprise considering how unhealthy and obese our population is. Some big reasons are as follows.

Cancer takes years to decades to develop for many people, and the older generations tend to be more averse to dealing with doctors, leading to increased cancer rates from many environmental hazards people were exposed to a long time ago. Think of all the pollutants, radiation, chemicals, and so forth that are now regulated because of the known damage they cause, which weren’t regulated when many older generations were exposed to them. And new chemicals continue to come out today in a never-ending cycle.

There’s also a clear role of lifestyle changes. Diet quality has declined, people have become fatter and sicker, and physical activity is almost non-existent. Most people simply live shittier lives full of habits that are known to be carcinogenic.

There’s also a genetic component to cancer. More accurately, a predisposition. Our genes haven’t changed in the last 50 years, but all the environmental changes affect gene expression, making more people develop cancer simply because their exposures turn on those genes.

Surprisingly, in my case, I didn’t exhibit any germline mutations in my over 300 oncogene sequence, despite being diagnosed with cancer at a young age. However, for many others, these genetic factors play a significant role in their early cancer diagnosis. When combined with environmental and lifestyle factors, genetic influence can significantly elevate the risk among younger individuals.⁣

All that said, cancer remains pretty rare in younger people (as do most diseases). Yet, this is typically the group of people who are most concerned about it. Greater access to information and social media definitely plays a role here, as people in general are more aware of cancer and information related to it, so they can bring it up to their doctor (e.g., skin cancer especially).

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