AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – A new study shows a nearly 20 percent increase in younger people getting diagnosed with cancer.

“When I saw the tech, the first thing she told me was this looks like cancer. I’ve been doing this a long time. I said don’t say that,” Noemi Nieves said.

Breast pain and blood discharge. Those are the two symptoms that brought Noemi Nieves into the doctor’s office. And along with learning she was pregnant, she also found out she had breast cancer, with no family history, at age 39.

“You can’t do chemo until your second trimester. So, my only option was a surgery. And it was a good thing that I did the surgery because while they did the surgery, they found out that I had a lot of lymph nodes that had cancer. It was going down this way,” Nieves explained while pointing to her right arm.

Nieves gave birth to healthy twins and is now a mother of five. She is in remission, but there are many like her being diagnosed with cancer under the age of 40. A study from the National Cancer Institute, states researchers found increased rates of early-on set cancer in younger people ages 30 to 39.

“The age for colonoscopy has decreased down to age 45 where it used to be 50 because of the younger population that we are seeing. So, definitely colon cancer. But even pancreatic cancer, some women in their 50s. And of course, breast as well,” said Georgia Cancer Center Surgeon Dr. Alicia Arnold.

Gastrointestinal cancers had the fastest growing rates from the study. Some risk factors cited include rising obesity rates and living a sedentary life. Environmental factors include exposure to carcinogens and even stress, many of the things people picked up during the pandemic.

“You look at grocery prices, you look at gas prices or just renting a home, or buying a home, and it’s really, really difficult for that age group right now. That’s a very stressful factor that then also causes your body to have a weakened immune system,” said Dr. Arnold. “You’re releasing more cortisol and then your body is just more subject to things like cancer.”

Dr. Arnold suggests exercise, keeping your immune system healthy and following the doctor’s orders for testing, such as getting your mammogram by 40 or ten years prior to when a loved one was diagnosed with the disease, but not before 30.

Photojournalist: Gary Hipps