Young adult and teen cancer cases rose 30% in 40 years

"Adolescents and young adults are a distinct cancer population," he says. "But they are often grouped together with pediatric or adult patients in research studies," says Nicholas Zaorsky. (Credit: Norm Wright/Flickr)

Cases of young adults and teens with cancer have risen 30% during the last four decades, with kidney cancer rising at the greatest rate, researchers report.

They say the findings show a need for further research into screening, diagnosis, and treatment to address the growing trend in this age group.

“Adolescents and young adults are a distinct cancer population.”

Nicholas Zaorsky, assistant professor of radiation oncology and public health sciences at Penn State, says that cancer is the leading cause of disease-related death in this age group and that the increasing number of cases is concerning.

“Adolescents and young adults are a distinct cancer population,” he says. “But they are often grouped together with pediatric or adult patients in research studies. It is important to study how this group is distinct so that care guidelines can be developed to address the increase in cases.”

The researchers analyzed data—including sex, age at diagnosis, and type of cancer—from nearly half a million cancer patients in the United States between 15 and 39 years old across more than four decades. The National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program collected the data.

The team’s goal was to determine the number of cancer cases in adolescents and young adults between 1973 and 2015. The results appear in JAMA Network Open.

During the time period studied, the researchers found cancer diagnoses increased from 57 to 74 per 100,000 adolescents and young adults. The most common types in males were testicular, melanoma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The most common types in females were breast, thyroid, cervical, and uterine cancers.

Further, Zaorsky, a Penn State Cancer Institute researcher, says the rates of kidney, thyroid, and gastrointestinal cancers are increasing in this age group.

“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.”

According to Zaorsky, further research is needed to determine why kidney, thyroid, gastrointestinal, and other types of cancer are on the rise in adolescents and young adults. He says that environmental, dietary and screening changes during the time period studied may have contributed to the increased incidences.

“These cancers all have unique risk factors,” Zaorsky says. “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.”

Additional coauthors are from the Mayo Clinic, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Oregon Health and Science University, McGovern Medical School, and Penn State.

The National Center for Advancing Translation Sciences through Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s Translational Science Fellowship funded the work. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH. The authors disclose no conflict of interest.

Source: Penn State