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New cancer cases expected to hit record high in 2024

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A new report from the American Cancer Society estimates there will be a record number of new cancer cases this year. Dr. Bill Dahut is the chief scientific officer for the Cancer Prevention Group.

BILL DAHUT: This is the first time that we've ever seen, you know, the number going over the 2-million-person barrier.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

But listen to this. It's younger people than you might think who are getting the diagnosis more these days.

DAHUT: The proportion of cancer diagnoses for folks over the age of 65 has fallen, while the proportion between the ages of 55 and 64 has risen significantly.

MARTÍNEZ: The study finds colorectal cancer is now the leading cause, cancerous death, among men under 50. For women in that age group, it's the second only to breast cancer. Dahut says it's unclear why younger patients are dealing with more cancer cases.

DAHUT: It does sound like some sort of environmental, broadly speaking, exposure. We don't know what that is. We know there's a strong link with obesity in cancer, but it's not quite clear what about obesity actually causes cancer.

FADEL: And doctors worry about the ability of young people to fight off cancer because they're often uninsured, or they have caregiving and family obligations that can get in the way of getting treatment. Dahut says it's concerning, and screening is key.

MARTÍNEZ: One-third of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer before they reach 50 years old have a family history or some kind of genetic predisposition. Doctors advise that they should start screening for potential problems long before their 45th birthday.

DAHUT: If you had somebody in your family with - colorectal cancers are diagnosed when they're 43, that means around age 33, you should start screening.

FADEL: There's some good news in this report. The latest data indicates the overall cancer mortality rate continues to drop in the U.S. That's because, well, one, cancer screenings are better. And, two, a lot of people have kicked the cigarette to the curb. Basically, fewer people are smoking. And, three, cancer treatment is now more effective than in years before.

DAHUT: There are things you can do. Follow the screening recommendations. And if your risk is greater than average, you know, be screened earlier on.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So you heard the doctor there. This is your reminder to talk to your doctor about your family history of cancer and find out when you should begin screening. Sounds like the sooner the better, just to be safe.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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