Cancer cases among teens, young adults up 30 percent over past 40 years

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — An alarming new report shows the number of young people with cancer has soared by 30 percent over the last four decades. Teenagers and young adults are more likely to develop certain types of cancer today than they were 40 years ago, especially liver cancer, according to the study.

While teens account for less than one percent of all new cancer cases in the U.S. every year, it remains the No. 1 killer when it comes to “disease related deaths” among young people. The most common types of cancer for young men over the past 40 years have been testicular, skin or blood cancers, while for young women it has been breast, thyroid and cervical cancers.

In all, there will be 5,000 to 6,000 new cancer cases among teens ages 15-19 each year, according to the American Cancer Society. Of those teens, 10 percent will die from the disease. Among young adults ages 20-39 in America, 80,000 will be diagnosed each year, and 9,000 will die.

More research into screening, diagnosis and treatment is needed to buck the deadly trend, the researchers say.

“Adolescents and young adults are a distinct cancer population. But they are often grouped together with pediatric or adult patients in research studies,” says study author Dr. Nicholas Zaorsky, an assistant professor at Penn State University, in a statement. “It is important to study how this group is distinct so that care guidelines can be developed to address the increase in cases.”

Doctors should be ‘on the lookout’ for cancer in younger patients

Data on around half a million cancer patients aged 15 to 39 in the U.S. over more than four decades was analyzed by the researchers. Information included peoples sex, their age when they were first diagnosed and the type of cancer. Between 1973 and 2015 cancer diagnosis among teenagers and young adults increased from 57 to 74 per 100,000, the researchers found.

In young men, the most common types of cancer were testicular, melanoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. Younger women were more likely to have breast, thyroid, cervical and uterine cancers. The greatest overall rise was in kidney cancer, the researchers also found.

“Other studies have shown these types are increasing among this age group,” says Zaorsky. “Our data reinforces the fact that clinicians should be on the lookout for these cancers in their adolescent and young adult patients.”

To determine why these cancers, specifically, are on the rise among younger generations requires further research. But environmental, dietary and screening changes over the last 40 years could be behind the increase, the researchers say.

“These cancers all have unique risk factors,” says Zaorsky. “Now that there is a better understanding of the types of cancer that are prevalent and rising in this age group, prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment protocols specifically targeted to this population should be developed.”

While women are far more likely to develop cancer at a young age, the trend reverses later in life.

The findings are published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

SWNS writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.

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