ATLANTA — Cancer strikes people of all ages and in many different forms. While new medications and therapies are improving the outcomes for patients, a new report finds some concerning news for younger Americans. The American Cancer Society estimates nearly 90,000 people between 15 and 39 years-old will be diagnosed with cancer in 2020.
The report finds the overall strides researchers are making in treating cancer often mask a problematic trend among adolescents and young adults (AYAs). For patients 15-19, 20-29, and 30-39, researchers find the rate of cancers rose during the most recent decade on record (2007-2016).
Most of this increase is due to a rise in thyroid cancer diagnoses. Cancers related to obesity, including kidney, uterine, and colorectal cancer, are also seeing more cases among young adults. For thyroid cancer, which affects a gland in the base of the throat, cases are rising by about three percent each year for Americans between 20 and 39. The rates are rising by four percent annually among teens 15 to 19.
Overall, the ACS report believes 89,500 AYAs in the U.S. will develop some form of cancer this year and 9,270 of these patients will die.
Some age groups are more likely to develop certain cancers
Study authors find teens ages 15-19 are more likely to be diagnosed with childhood-related cancers like Hodgkin lymphoma. Young Americans over 20 are more likely to develop breast cancer and other forms which tend to strike in adulthood.
For patients under 30, leukemia continues to be the leading form of cancer causing death in AYAs. For Americans between 30 and 39, breast cancer in women and colorectal cancer in men are the most likely to be fatal.
Overall, the survival rates for all AYAs when reviewing all forms of cancer is between 83 and 86 percent. While this compared favorably to younger children (84%), the study says this number masks lower survival rates for many types of this disease. AYAs only have a 60 percent survival rate for cancers like acute lymphocytic leukemia.
What’s different about cancer in young adults?
The ACS report adds there is evidence tumors in young adults are different from those in other age groups on a molecular level. Researchers believe this needs to be factored in when discussing treatment options. Other studies show AYAs tend to suffer more complications than children and older patients.
Young adults have a higher risk of their cancers progressing and dying compared to childhood cancer survivors. AYAs also have a higher risk of suffering from infertility, sexual dysfunction, heart disease, and a recurrence of cancer compared to other age groups.
“Although there has been rapid progress in the scientific understanding of cancer in AYAs over the last decade, several research gaps in etiology, basic biology, treatment, and survivorship remain,” the authors say in a media release. “AYAs diagnosed with cancer also continue to face challenges in health care access during early life transitions, which can negatively impact treatment.”
One of the main conclusions the American Cancer Society makes is cancer mortality rates can improve if access to health care improves for Americans under 40. Study authors find young adults are more likely to not have health insurance compared to any other group.
The study appears in the American Cancer Society journal: CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.