Early-Onset Cancer: Why are More Young Adults Being Diagnosed?

Posted in , , , by Echelon Health

Cancer can occur at any age, but more and more young adults are being diagnosed with early-onset cancer. The phenomenon seems global, with healthcare professionals from China to India noticing an uptake in young cancer patients. One study found that cancer cases in under 50s were up nearly 80% worldwide in three decades.

In this blog, we talk about the types of early-onset cancers doctors diagnose, potential causes and risk factors and the preventative measures you can take to minimise your chances of early-onset cancer. 

What early-onset cancers are young adults being diagnosed with?

Although early-onset cancer is increasing in young adults, most cancer cases occur in older people – and most of them are over 75. 

However, cancer in younger people is rising. By 2018, cancer incidence in 25 to 49-year-olds in the UK had increased by 22%

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in young adults. You may spot this cancer in the early stages if you perform regular breast checks. Having mammograms (an x-ray that captures images of your breast tissue) sooner rather than later can detect breast cancer early, and may be recommended to you if your family has a history of it.

Other cancers that have increased in incidence in young adults include:

  • Tracheal 
  • Prostate
  • Lung
  • Stomach
  • Bowel

When you start to understand why these cancers have increased, you can consider changing your lifestyle to reduce your risk. 

Causes of cancer in young adults: potential risk factors

Ageing is a typical cause of cancer, so it’s concerning that doctors are diagnosing young adults more frequently. The cause of early-onset cancer in young adults is unclear, but some potential factors could be increasing the risk. 

These include:

  • Poor diet
  • Excessive alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Being inactive or leading a sedentary lifestyle (sitting down all day
  • Being overweight

However, some factors, such as genetics, are unavoidable, and you cannot change them. 

Let’s look in-depth at the potential causes of cancer in young adults.

Lifestyle and cancer risk

As mentioned, lifestyle choices can play a role in your risk of developing cancer at a younger age. 

Poor diet

A poor diet can lead to obesity, leading to preventable risk factors for cancer. Diets high in fat and low in fibre may increase your risk of bowel, prostate, lung and uterine cancers. 

Some studies also link bowel cancer to eating processed meat and red meat.   


Smoking cigarettes can cause cancer to develop anywhere in your body, but doctors typically diagnose it in the mouth, throat, stomach, colon, liver, lungs and oesophagus. 

Quitting smoking reduces your risk. After not smoking for 10 to 15 years, your risk of developing cancers associated with the habit drops dramatically. 


Getting enough exercise is vital for your overall health. It helps you maintain a healthy weight and prevents high levels of insulin (a hormone that helps your body use a type of sugar called glucose for energy). Research links high insulin levels to an increased risk of breast and colon cancer, so keeping fit can help safeguard your health.


Alcohol can cause cancer. When you regularly drink more than you should, it can drastically increase your risk. Cancers associated with alcohol include breast, mouth and bowel cancer. 

Recent research has found that young adults may be more likely to ‘binge’ drink or drink large quantities in one day, contributing to an increased cancer risk.        

Genetic predisposition to cancer

You cannot change some risk factors for cancer and the biggest of these is a genetic predisposition. If you are born with an inherited faulty gene, it doesn’t mean you’ll develop cancer. However, you have a higher risk of developing a specific cancer than other people and at a young age.  

Reducing your cancer risk: preventative measures

Reducing your risk of cancer isn’t always possible, as some causes may be unchangeable (such as inherited genes). However, actively taking preventative care of your health through screening and healthy lifestyle changes can make a difference. 

Leading a healthy lifestyle

Making healthy lifestyle choices plays an essential role in reducing cancer risks.

Some of the healthy choices you can make include: 

  • Giving up smoking
  • Reducing your alcohol intake
  • Cutting down on or eliminating processed and red meat
  • Exercising regularly 
  • Eating a high-fibre diet

However, healthy lifestyle choices alone may not be enough to reduce your cancer risk, especially if the risk is genetic. 

Cancer screening in young adults

Reducing your risk of cancer can be challenging. However, the primary tool for lowering it is prevention through cancer screening. Many of the hundreds of potential causes and risk factors for cancer are out of our control, so safeguarding your health with preventative cancer screenings is essential. 

Not all cancers have symptoms when in their early stages. For example, pancreatic cancer and lung cancer often remain undiagnosed until they reach advanced stages and the symptoms are more significant. More advanced cancers are much harder to treat as well, so identifying and preventing cancer through screenings is vital.    

With many different types of cancer screening available, it’s crucial to know which scans are right for you based on your sex, gender and risk factors. 

Some of the cancers that screening can detect are: 

  • Leukaemia/lymphoma
  • Breast cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Kidney and adrenal gland cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Testicular cancer

Echelon Health’s Core Cancer Assessment gives you access to cancer screenings for all of the above. This assessment is ideal if you have a family history of cancer, as it can detect cancer in its early stages – increasing the effectiveness of treatment. Catching things early safeguards your health for the future.  

Book your cancer screening with Echelon Health

If you’re concerned about your risk of developing early-onset cancer, contact Echelon Health. We provide comprehensive cancer screenings that identify and detect cancer – even in asymptomatic patients. 

At Echelon Health we understand that everyone wants to live a long and healthy life. Unfortunately, a lot of us will not recognise that something is wrong until symptoms become noticeable.

However, thanks to the new technology in MRI, CT and Ultrasound preventive health assessments are carried out with precision never seen before. They can detect and discover many diseases at their earliest stage.

Many diseases are highly preventable in a lot of cases if caught early enough; Echelon Health screens for and detects up to 92% and 95% of diseases that lead to premature death among men and women respectively.

Preventive Health Assessments are important even if you are symptom-free and usually, hypertension is not noticeable for many people until they check their blood pressure. At Echelon Health we offer many packages, including our fully comprehensive Platinum Assessment in which the following tests are performed:

  • Medical Questionnaire & Pre-Assessment
  • Blood Tests
  • ECG
  • CT Aorta
  • CT Heart
  • CT Coronary Angiogram
  • CT Chest
  • CT Pelvis
  • CT Virtual Colonoscopy
  • CT Bone Density
  • EOS
  • CT Upright Skeleton
  • MRI Brain
  • MRI Cerebral Artery Angiogram
  • MRI Carotid Artery Angiogram
  • MRI Prostate
  • Ultrasound Thyroid
  • Ultrasound Testes/ Ovaries
  • Digital Mammogram
  • Full Body Mole Screen
  • Final Consultation