Though the number of such patients went up to 3.26 million in 2019 from 1.82 million in 1990, researchers found that the resultant deaths increased by 28% during the corresponding period.
The study is based on an analysis of data from the 2019 report of Global Burden of Disease covering 29 types of cancer in 204 countries and regions, including India.
Dr Devi Shetty, chairman of Narayana Health, said increased awareness and availability of diagnostic tools is a key factor for rise in reported incidence of cancer in countries like India. However, he added that the role of environmental factors such as pollution, dietary habits and reduced physical activity behind the increase in cases could not be discounted.
In the BMJ (Oncology) study, researchers found that breast cancer accounted for the highest number of early-onset cases in the under-50 age group in 2019 but cancers of the windpipe (nasopharynx) and prostate rose the fastest since 1990.
Early onset windpipe and prostate cancers rose annually at an estimated 2.28% and 2.23% respectively between 1990 and 2019. At the other end of the spectrum, early onset liver cancer fell by an estimated 2.88%. “Introduction of Hepatitis B vaccination in the universal immunisation programme has played an important role in reduction of liver cancer. But I feel that the gains made thereof may get undone due to a rise in incidence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease that can lead to liver cancer,” said Dr Randhir Sud, chairman of Medanta Institute of digestive and hepatobiliary sciences. He said cancers of the digestive systems have also gone up.
Based on the observed trends for the past three decades, the researchers estimated that the global number of new early onset cancer cases and associated deaths could rise by a further 31% and 21%, respectively by 2030, with those in their 40s the most at risk.
Genetic factors are likely to have a role but researchers say diets high in red meat and salt, and low in fruit and milk; alcohol consumption; and tobacco use are the main risk factors underlying the most common cancers among the under 50s. “Prevention and early detection measures are urgently required, along with identifying optimal treatment strategies for early-onset cancers, which should include a holistic approach addressing the unique supportive care needs of younger patients,” they said.
In 2022, India recorded approximately 14.6 lakh cancer cases. By 2025, this number is projected to touch 15.7 lakh.