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Early-Onset Cancer: Investigating Rising Rates in Folks 50 Years and Younger

EDITOR’S SUMMARY: Cancer—the development of abnormal cells that divide uncontrollably with the ability to spread throughout your body; infiltrating and wreaking havoc on your tissue and organs. With the degree of Big Chem bombardment, from soil to sky and everywhere in between, in literally every area, nook and cranny of society, how could rates of cancer, i.e., “sick cells,” NOT increase in a domino effect?

Written by Carter Trent
Edited by Nicki Steinberger, Ph.D.

Cancer is a disease that has historically been associated with older people. That perception makes sense since the median age for a cancer diagnosis is 66 years according to the National Cancer Institute.

But cancer rates are rising among those under 50 years of age, according to a 2022 research study published in Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology. Referred to as early-onset cancer, the incidence of cancer among this age group has steadily increased since the 1990s.

For example, the occurrence of early-onset colorectal cancer in the U.S. has nearly doubled from 11% of cases in 1995 to 20% in 2019. Colon cancer was the cause of death for actor Chadwick Boseman, star of Disney’s Black Panther movie, who was diagnosed in his 30s, and sadly passed away at age 43.

Not only is early-onset cancer increasing, the study’s findings showed the risk of cancer has grown with each generation. Those born in the 1990s possess twice the risk of developing colon cancer, and four times the risk of rectal cancer, compared to people born in the 1950s.

Shuji Ogino, one of the study’s researchers, called this phenomenon the “birth cohort effect,” stating

“This effect shows that each successive group of people born at a later time — e.g., a decade later — have a higher risk of developing cancer later in life, likely due to risk factors they were exposed to at a young age.”

Data from the National Cancer Institute confirms these findings as childhood cancers have jumped 40% since 1975. This increase is attributed to widespread environmental pollution, and that children’s bodies are still developing, making them more vulnerable to environmental toxins, according to a report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Pesticides and Plastics

The environment has become heavily polluted through human action, exposing us to multiple toxins at the same time. The extensive use of pesticides is one example. Pesticide use ballooned after 1960, from approximately 200 million pounds applied to U.S. crops at the time to over one billion pounds now. These crops include corn and soybeans, which account for approximately 60% of total pesticide application, as well as tomatoes, peanuts, apples, wheat, and rice.

Make no mistake: Pesticides are toxic, and deliberately spread into the environment for agricultural purposes, exposing you to pesticide residue in food. Research shows many pesticides are dangerous to human health.

For example, organophosphates are a group of pesticides commonly applied in agriculture. And for residential use as insecticides, they are designed to damage an insect’s nervous system. Farms use them on fruit and nut trees, cotton, vegetables, and herbs. But organophosphates are so deadly, they are employed as nerve agents in war, and by terrorists.

In humans, organophosphate pesticides are linked to increased risk of breast, thyroid, prostate, and ovarian cancers. Many organophosphates are now banned or being phased out in Europe and other countries, but are still used in U.S. agriculture.

Pesticides are prevalent in dietary supplements as well. The U.S. Government Accountability Office discovered pesticide residue exceeding safety limits recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in a sampling of herbal supplements. You’ll find pesticides in cleaning supplies as well.

But pesticides are not the only environmental toxins you’re being exposed to. Benzene is a chemical recognized as a carcinogen by the EPA, and linked to increased rates of leukemia. Yet according to a report by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), “Everyone is exposed to a small amount of benzene every day.”

You are primarily exposed to benzene by breathing air contaminated with it, since it’s produced from motor vehicle exhaust. Other sources include gas station emissions, tobacco smoke, and bottled water.

Benzene is used to make plastic, which is another source of environmental pollution. Widespread plastic production has occurred only in about the last 70 years, and continues to grow by an average of 4% per year.

This proliferation of plastic has resulted in microscopic plastic particles in the environment, your water supply, and your body. Called microplastics, these particles are less than five millimeters in size, and are found everywhere on the planet, from the summit of Mount Everest to the ocean depths of the Mariana Trench.

A study of dust collected in households found that nearly 40% of it was composed of microplastics. It’s no wonder the research has revealed microplastics in human lungs and blood. Because toxic chemicals are used to create plastic, microplastics, in turn, act as carriers of these hazardous substances. Consequently, microplastics can contain chemicals that damage your DNA and cause cancer.

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Cancer cells

EMF Overload

Another form of environmental pollution adding to cancer risk is electromagnetic fields (EMFs). These are electric and magnetic fields produced by the flow of electricity.

Radiofrequency (RF) EMFs, in particular, have steadily increased since the 1950s. This type of EMF involves invisible waves of electromagnetic radiation that travel through air instead of wires. It’s used in mobile phones, wireless internet devices, baby monitors, smart meters, and televisions.

In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer deemed RF EMF as potentially carcinogenic. Your body absorbs this radiofrequency radiation, so safety limits around exposure are required to protect human health.

In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sets safety standards for RF EMF used in telecommunications, such as mobile phones, and has deemed RF EMF that comply with its standards as safe. But the FCC’s current limits for maximum allowable RF EMF exposure were set in 1996 based on studies conducted in the 1980s on a handful of monkeys and rats.

Research has shown these safety limits underestimate the human body’s RF EMF absorption rate for typical mobile phone users, especially children, whose small bodies can absorb more than double the RF radiation of an adult.

Moreover, current fourth generation (4G) mobile wireless technology emits radiofrequency in the range of 0.7 to 2.7 gigahertz. Over 120 studies have shown this low-intensity RF EMF causes DNA damage due to oxidative stress, a condition that produces unstable molecules in your body, called free radicals, that can damage cells. Free radicals are thought to play a role in the development of cancer.

Meanwhile, the new fifth generation (5G) wireless technology uses frequency spectrums up to nearly 30 times higher than 4G. Consequently, some in the scientific community are urging more research on the impact of EMF exposure, particularly for children and adolescents. However, the FCC continues to support 5G expansion.

The Food You Eat; The Beverages You Drink

While environmental pollution plays a big part in early-onset cancer, another key risk factor is consumption of the typical standard American diet (SAD). Since the mid-20th century, significant changes in the food supply have taken place that increase cancer risk, such as heavy reliance on industrially-processed food.

Food processing has existed for generations as part of agriculture and animal husbandry, but became a large-scale, industrialized process only in the last 100 years. As part of that industrialization, the use of food additives, such as the obscurely-labeled “natural flavors” ingredient, and chemical preservatives, became commonplace.

One prevalent synthetic preservative is sodium benzoate, which has been used as a food additive for a century. It’s added to fruit juices, carbonated beverages, pickles, sauces, and many other products.

Sodium benzoate is considered safe by the FDA, but scientific studies discovered it can turn into cancer-causing benzene in the presence of vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid. Fruit juices and other store-bought beverages, such as soda, can contain both ascorbic acid and sodium benzoate.

One example is Sun Drop soda, which contains orange juice and sodium benzoate. Another is Ocean Spray pineapple juice. Consequently, you can suffer heightened exposure to benzene if you frequently consume these drinks. In fact, several carbonated beverages contain sodium benzoate, including Sprite and Fanta. Carbonated beverages were found to have the highest benzene concentrations relative to other foods.

In addition, sodium benzoate was found to cause oxidative stress, increasing your risk of developing cancer. Sodium benzoate has also been linked to hormone disruption, reduced fertility, and can affect your immune system, as well as kidney and liver function.

Added refined sugars, commonly found in the standard American diet, contribute to increased cancer risk. No scientific evidence suggests sugar causes cancer, rather, it’s the effects of eating too much sugar that creates conditions for heightened cancer risk. Overconsumption of sugar contributes to obesity and diabetes, both of which are risk factors for early-onset cancer.

From Cancer Counsel, “Does sugar cause cancer?”:

“There is a view that sugar “feeds” cancer cells. Most cancer cells grow faster than normal cells and therefore require more energy. It has been shown that glucose metabolism is often altered in cancer cells to meet the increased demand for glucose. However, this does not mean that consuming sugar will make cancer cells grow faster or cause cancer. All foods are broken down into glucose as all cells, not just cancer cells, require glucose for energy.”

While some sugar occurs naturally, such as in fruit or milk, refined sugar is a processed food, extracted from sources such as beets and corn, so only the sugar remains. Refined sugar is commonly added to a wide range of foods and beverages to improve taste, including cookies, ice cream, soda, energy drinks, ketchup, and pasta sauce.

When it’s included as a food additive, refined sugar must be noted on food nutrition labels under “added sugar.” From The Lancet: Diabetes & Endocrinology, “Sweetening of the global diet, particularly beverages: patterns, trends, and policy responses,” an estimated 74% of products in the U.S. food supply contain added sugars.

The widespread use of added sugars has contributed to the overconsumption of sugar by Americans. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Americans consume 34 teaspoons of sugar per day, while the American Heart Association recommends no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar for men, and 6 teaspoons for women.

This overconsumption has led to rising obesity rates with two-thirds of Americans estimated to be overweight or obese, including children. Childhood obesity rates have exploded since the 1970s by more than threefold.

At the same time, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals an increase in obesity-related cancers (breast, colon, rectal, kidney, endometrial, thyroid, pancreas, stomach, gallbladder, ovary) in 20 to 49-year olds. In fact, obesity-related cancers are forecasted to increase by 30% in women under 50 years of age by 2030.

And Other Factors …

Genetic defects account for only about 5 to 10% of all cancer cases, so the vast majority are the result of lifestyle and environmental factors. Since the mid-20th century, the increased pervasiveness of man-made environmental toxins and industrially-processed food stuffed with chemical ingredients, such as sodium benzoate, parallels the rise in early-onset cancer.

And what about emergence of cancers related to COVID-19 vaccinations? Though there might not be definitive links to causation yet, curiosity by case studies are at the brink of research. There is also suspicion and correlation that post-remission cancers have come back to attack after the jab. Research will continue to evolve in these areas.

In addition, and for obvious reasons unnecessary to list, the level of stress for many people skyrocketed during the pandemic. And chronic psychological stress is linked to cancer. To answer the question, “Does stress cause cancer?” numerous studies have delivered varying results. This continues to be a significant area of ongoing research with much to discover. You can dig in here:

A discussion on causes of cancer would not be thorough without acknowledging GMOs—genetically modified organisms. Dr. Jeffrey Smith, M.D., correlates a host of cancers to his research on the weed killer, glyphosate. From A Voice for Choice Advocacy (AVFCA), “Hidden Glyphosate In Your Food: Part Two – Impact on Human Health”:

“Smith cited correlations on slide after slide, making the connections to inflammatory digestive diseases, thyroid cancer, bile duct and liver cancer, kidney and pelvic cancer, urinary and bladder cancer, leukemia, renal failure, hepatitis, autism, diabetes, and the list goes on. He showed the increases in disease are in part due to your body not being able to fend off attacks, which creates a ripe environment for inflammation and co-occurring diseases that further complicate your health.”

And on blood cancer, from Environmental Working Group (EWG), whose mission is to “empower you with breakthrough research to make informed choices and live a healthy life in a healthy environment.”Monsanto’s GMO Herbicide Doubles Cancer Risk”: 

In fact, glyphosate has been found to double the risk of one blood cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and increase the risk of a related cancer, multiple myeloma. (Multiple myeloma was recently classified as a sub-type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but they used to be considered distinct diseases.)”

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Fear Cancer? Take Action

Certainly, thinking about rising cancer rates can feel overwhelming. At the same time, you can take proactive steps to protect your health, and share vital information (better yet is to model) with those you love. Choose organic foods to avoid pesticides and herbicides. Eliminate as many packaged foods (a.k.a. “food-like products) as you can from your diet, since many include chemical preservatives and added sugars.

Stop using plastic water bottles, which can contain double the amount of microplastics as tap water. Switch to carrying a reusable water bottle instead. This is an area where you can make a choice to avoid PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances: a group of synthetic organofluorine chemical compounds)—forever chemicals linked to cancer that love to linger in your body.

Wear clothes made of natural materials, such as cotton, rather than polyester and other plastics. But be sure it’s organic, since cotton is among the top crops subjected to pesticides. Several vendors today sell organic cotton clothing. If your clothes contain polyester, nylon, and other plastics, avoid putting them in the dryer, which can release up to 120 million microfibers into the air annually.

To minimize contact with the benzene carcinogen, limit exposure to gasoline fumes by not idling your car, and don’t use products containing benzene, which may include deodorants, sunscreen, and hand sanitizer.

To reduce the effects of EMF exposure, don’t keep your mobile phone in your pocket; carry it in a purse or bag instead. Limit screen time among children, particularly wireless devices since children absorb RF EMF at higher rates. Opt out of smart meter participation, and if you already have one, get it moved to a wall where no one is sleeping on the other side.

With increased awareness of the dangerous elements contributing to cancer in your environment and food, you can implement immediate actions to minimize your risk, and lead a healthier lifestyle.


Published on July 13, 2023

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