Teenage and young adult cancers


Around 2,200 15 to 24 year olds are diagnosed with cancer every year in the UK.

This age group is referred to as ‘teenage and young adult’ or ‘TYA’.

TYA cancers bridge the gap between paediatric and adult oncology: many of the childhood cancers no longer feature and adult cancers begin to make up a significant proportion of the overall cancer burden.

Incidence

Although relatively rare, compared with cancer in adults, cancer is more common in TYA than in children.

Cancer statistics for adults are generally classified according to the site of the tumour in the body, such as lung, bowel, breast. TYA cancers, however, are more appropriately classified using a system that also takes into account the type of cell and tissue from which the cancer originates. This system is similar, but not identical, to the system used for the classification of childhood tumours.

The average annual numbers and proportions of cancers for the main TYA diagnostic groups are shown in the pie chart below.

Relative contributions of main diagnostic groups of TYA cancers to overall incidence: patients aged 15 to 24 years
United Kingdom, 2000 to 2009
Data source: Cancer Research UK (2013)
TYA cancer incidence pie chart

Lymphoma is the most common cancer in this age group, accounting for more than 20 per cent of cases. Next most common is carcinoma (of the thyroid, cervix, ovary, bowel or breast).
Read more: Hodgkin lymphomaNon-Hodgkin lymphoma

Although making up a smaller proportion of cases overall, the incidence rate of CNS tumours is the same in childhood and TYA.
Read more: CNS tumours

Germ cell tumours become much more common, with the majority of cases being testicular.
Read more: Germ cell tumours

Bone tumours are more than twice as common in TYA as in childhood.
Read more: Osteosarcoma | Ewing sarcoma

Survival

Survival from TYA cancer is improving. More than 80 per cent of TYAs diagnosed with cancer in the UK now survive for at least five years.

There is considerable variation in survival between the different diagnostic groups. Bone tumours and soft tissue sarcomas have the lowest survival overall – with five year survival of 56 per cent and 61 per cent respectively.

Survival is significantly lower in TYAs than in children for several cancer types, including bone tumours and soft tissue sarcomas.

The difference in survival is particularly marked in patients with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), which has a five year survival rate of 92 per cent in children and 61 per cent in TYA.

Andy is now in remissionThe TYA group also fare worse with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), which has survival rate of 69 per cent survival in children and 57 per cent in TYA. In ALL, and to a lesser extent AML, five year survival decreases markedly with age from 0 to 49 years.

For brain tumours however, survival is higher in the TYA group (at 82 per cent) than either the younger or the older age groups.

The reasons for these differences in survival are not fully understood but may be partly explained by factors relating to diagnosis, different treatment protocols and levels of participation in clinical trials.

Read more: Andy's storyAndy was preparing for his first year of university in summer 2003 when he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML). Andy is now in remission. 

TYA cancer deaths

Cancer is the most common cause of death from disease in the TYA age group, accounting for around 310 deaths per year in the UK.

Brain tumours are responsible for the largest proportion of these deaths, 19 per cent, closely followed by the leukaemias, which account for around 18 per cent of deaths. Bone tumours and lymphomas also account for a large proportion of deaths, at 15 per cent and 12 per cent respectively.

Other sources of information

More detailed information on teenage and young adult cancers can be obtained via:

Cancer Research UK

The Teenage Cancer Trust

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