The Princess of Wales’ Cancer Diagnosis Must Be a Wake Up Call

The Princess of Wales’ Cancer Diagnosis Must Be a Wake Up CallCatherine, Princess of Wales recently revealed she was diagnosed with cancer. She did not reveal the type of cancer, but most news reports speculate it was discovered/diagnosed because of her recent surgery. Her announcement comes weeks after her father-in-law, King Charles, revealed he, too, had cancer.

King Charles is 75. Princess Catherine is 42. Her diagnosis needs to be a wake up call for young people and the medical profession, because the data shows a marked increase in cancer diagnoses for people under the age of 50. In 2023, scientists published an analysis in JAMA which looked at more than 560,000 cases of early-onset cancer from 2010 to 2019. They found that “the incidence rates of early-onset cancers increased substantially over the study period.” Analysis published in BMJ Oncology supports this finding: “Global incidence of early-onset cancer increased by 79.1% and the number of early-onset cancer deaths increased by 27.7% between 1990 and 2019.”

Cancer is no longer a disease reserved for the elderly.

What is early-onset cancer?

The “early” part of “early-onset” changes based on the type of cancer. Per Yale Medicine, that age is under 45 for breast cancer, and under 50 for colorectal cancer: “A cancer diagnosis before age 50 is not uncommon, but it’s also not the trajectory most people expect, considering the median age for a cancer diagnosis is 66 years old.”

Which early-onset cancers are being diagnosed the most?

Per CNN, which analyzed the data from the JAMA report, breast cancer, thyroid cancer, and colorectal cancer were diagnosed the most often in 2019. However, the largest jumps in diagnostic rates were cancers of the appendix (252% increase from 2010 to 2019), bile duct (142% increase), and uterus (76% increase). Both the JAMA article and the BMJ article cited increases in gastrointestinal cancers in general.

Who is at greatest risk of early-onset cancer?

Women are being diagnosed with early-onset cancers the most. There was a 4.35% increase in early-onset cancer diagnoses for women between 2010 and 2019; for men, there was a 4.91% decrease.

Why are early-onset cancers increasing?

There is no definitive, agreed-upon reason why younger people are being diagnosed with cancer more often. Dr. Jalal Baig, an oncologist who writes opinion pieces for CNN, posits there may be a nutrition and lifestyle component:

Notably, the population’s underlying genetic risks haven’t changed in the past several decades, bolstering the case that environment and lifestyle have a greater role in these cancers than our genes. Culprits may include ultraprocessed foods, sugary drinks, red meat, smoking, alcohol, sleep alterations, obesity and physical inactivity. Alone and especially in concert, these factors can alter the internal processes of our bodies by upsetting metabolism and ratcheting up inflammation.

This theory is supported by research published in the Annals of Oncology, at least for colorectal cancers. Their findings showed additional risk factors based on genetic means, but also for two “modifiable” factors: excess weight and alcohol consumption.

Dr. Baig points out that “research efforts are underway examining whether changes in the gut microbiome, the trillions of microbes that reside inside us, are increasing our bodies’ vulnerability to cancer.” (It is possible, he said, that these changes have been caused by our lifestyle choices.)

Finally, studies are looking into changes that may have occurred in utero. Per Dr. Baig:

Because cancer is a disease understood to develop over decades as changes in DNA accumulate and spawn tumors, a person diagnosed at a younger age may have been exposed to risk factors as a baby or in utero. Research is also focused here currently, with studies associating greater risk with cesarean delivery in females and a synthetic form of progesterone used to prevent premature labor.

Can we do anything to reduce the rates of early-onset cancers?

The current potential correlation between lifestyle and increased cancer risk gives us one potential prevention method: eat less, exercise more. Wear sunscreen to reduce the risk of skin cancers. Avoid smoking or vaping to reduce your risk of lung cancers.

We know, however, that people who live healthy lifestyles are also being diagnosed with early-onset cancer. As such, the best move for young people is likely to start screening sooner. Instead of waiting until the age of 50 for a mammogram, for example, you should go at 40. Both men and women should be encouraged to do breast exams, because about 1 in every 726 men will develop breast cancer.

The American Cancer Society breaks down the screening tests by age, but you should report any physical signs or changes to your doctor.

Finally, do your best to get a full family history when it comes to cancer diagnoses, as many cancers have a genetic risk.

Cancer misdiagnosis as an act of medical negligence

One of the more dangerous factors about early-onset cancers is that they are often aggressive. Per Yale Medicine, “Younger adults tend to have a more aggressive-appearing cancer. They also tend to present at a more advanced stage.”

This is critically important, because it means less time for treatment, which means an increased risk of fatality. It also means that doctors need to put aside any biases they have about cancer. If your doctor fails to recognize the symptoms of cancer because he or she feels you are too young to have the disease, you may have a medical malpractice case. The same is true if your doctor ignores your complaints entirely.

The number of early-onset cancer diagnoses is rising. If your cancer was misdiagnosed, or if your diagnosis was delayed because your doctor did not take your complaints seriously, you may have legal options. The Kentucky medical malpractice attorneys of Wilt Injury Lawyers can help. To schedule a free consultation, please call or contact us. We maintain offices in Lexington and Louisville and serve clients across Kentucky.