The world could see a 31% increase in cancer cases in patients under 50 years of age by 2030, according to data presented by Nina Melo, coordinator of the Oncology Observatory, at the 10th All Together Against Cancer Congress, held this Tuesday (26), in São Paulo.
At the table, moderated by journalist César Cavalcanti, experts gathered to debate the increased incidence of the disease in this segment of the population, which is not considered a risk group.
Although the disease is linked to aging, data from the latest research points to a change in the profile of patients.
In a 2016 study promoted by the Oncology Observatory itself using data from the Population-Based Cancer Registry and the Online Mortality Atlas, both from Inca (National Cancer Institute), there was a general increase in the number of people under 50 years affected by different tumors.
In this age group, there is a significant increase in cases of breast, cervical, thyroid and prostate cancer, which is preventable and has been decreasing among older people.
The results collected by the Oncology Observatory are in line with a trend observed worldwide. Recent scientific studies show that there has been an increase of more than 80% in cases among patients under 50 years of age in the last three decades.
Laura Cury, coordinator of the Alcohol Project, from the NGO ACT Promoção da Saúde, states that the expansion of cases among the adult population is a consequence of society’s greater exposure to the five main risk factors for the disease.
They are smoking, poor diet, the use of alcoholic beverages, obesity and exposure to pollution — all of which are modifiable, she says.
“Smoking control is a success story from which we should be inspired to reduce the prevalence of other risk factors”, says the expert, highlighting the existence of several public policies, some even endorsed by entities such as the WHO ( World Health Organization) and the World Bank.
One of the examples cited is taxation. Used in the case of tobacco, it is considered a fundamental measure as a cost-effective public policy.
“We now have an immense opportunity in the context of tax reform to discuss these issues. There are ways to link resources collected from taxation to prevention and health promotion policies”, he says. The expert also defends the selective taxation of products considered harmful to health, such as ultra-processed foods.
Melo says that there are conflicts of interest that challenge this process and draws attention to the veto of articles related to the regulation and advertising of these products in the original document of the National Cancer Control Policy, submitted for consideration by the National Congress.
Gustavo Fernandes, doctor representing the Brazilian Society of Clinical Oncology, adds that a possible alternative is to promote policies that exempt healthy foods. The oncologist also highlights the importance of programs developed in Brazilian schools.
“The public school is also a social care unit. The child eats, is educated, receives shelter from violence”, he says. Following the example of measures adopted by the Barack Obama government in the United States, he suggests promoting healthy eating, encouraging physical activity, and providing guidance on tobacco, alcohol and sexual behavior.
It also highlights the importance of vaccination campaigns, capable of protecting younger people from viruses such as HPV and hepatitis B, which can cause cervical and liver cancer, respectively.
On the other hand, Fernandes says that there is not enough evidence to justify the expansion of screening policies for this portion of the population.
Paulo Hoff, president of Oncologia D’Or, follows the same line. The specialist states that it is not a question of cost, but rather of the risks of possible interventions in younger patients.
In cases of breast cancer, the age for screening fell from 50 to 40 years. In the case of intestines, it increased to 45 years. “Remember that this applies to people at normal risk. Those with a family history should start screening at a younger age,” adds Hoff.
Despite the challenges, the experts gathered see reasons for optimism for the future.
“Whenever I talk about cancer in young adults, I find it extremely challenging. I think that perhaps this is the age at which any serious illness is most dramatic. These are the cases that make me think, suffer and feel the most”, says Fernandes.
“From the point of view of the future, my nature is optimistic. Of course it could improve further, but things are evolving.”
The 10th All Together Against Cancer Congress takes place on the 26th, 27th and 28th of September, in São Paulo, in online and in-person formats. There will be, in total, around 200 speakers, including teachers, patients and authorities.