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Cancer Snapshots: Disease Focused and Other Snapshots

  • Posted: 12/02/2013

A Snapshot of Adolescent and Young Adult Cancers

Cancers Affecting Adolescents and Young Adults (AYAs)

An estimated 67,500 adolescents and young adults (AYAs) ages 15-39 were diagnosed with cancer in 2010.1 This is almost six times the number of cases diagnosed in children ages 0-14. The incidence of specific cancer types varies dramatically across the AYA age continuum. For example, leukemia, lymphoma, and testicular cancer (germ cell tumors) are the most common cancer types in younger AYAs (15-24 years old). By ages 25-39, breast, cervical and uterine, and colorectal cancers comprise a growing share of cancers among AYAs.2 See Cancers in Young People to learn more. 

Bar graphs depicting the number of observed cases of the Common Types of Cancer Affecting AYAs for Age at Diagnosis 15-19, 20-24, 25-29, 30-34, and 35-39. Leukemia and lymphoma are the most common types of cancers at ages at diagnosis 15-19 and 20-24. By ages at diagnosis 30-34, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer.

Incidence, Mortality, and Survival

Cancer is the leading cause of disease-related death in the AYA population; among females, it is the most common disease-related cause of death, and among males it is second only to heart disease.3 In the AYA age group, only accidents, suicide, and homicide claim more lives than cancer.

Incidence rates of cancers in AYAs vary by race and ethnicity. Rates of both cancer incidence and 5-year survival are highest among white AYAs. American Indian/Alaska Native AYAs have the lowest cancer incidence rates. African Americans have intermediate incidence rates and the lowest 5-year survival rates.

Unlike improvements seen in younger and older age groups, survival rates for young people (AYAs) with some types of cancer have not improved in almost 30 years. Factors that may account for the lack of improved outcomes among AYAs include:

Line graph depicting 5-Year Survival of AYAs with Cancer (Survival Percentage) for White Non-Hispanic, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaska Native, and African American for 1-5 Years after Diagnosis.  Hispanic ethnicity is independent of race and can overlap with African American, Asians/Pacific Islanders, or American Indians/Alaska Natives.  White is limited to non-Hispanic white.  Analysis was based on any death from any cancer site in both sexes and all races, ages 15-39.

Examples of NCI Activities Relevant to AYA Cancers

Selected Advances in AYA Cancers Research

  • In a phase II trial, patients with advanced alveolar soft part sarcoma—a disease that affects AYAs primarily and for which standard anticancer therapies are not effective—showed encouraging responses to the experimental drug cediranib. Published April 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
  • Increased DNA methylation in AYAs with acute lymphoblastic leukemia correlates with clinical and pathologic disease features, suggesting a potential role for DNA methylation in leukemia formation in this population. Published July 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
  • Selected Adolescent and Young Adult Health Outcomes and Patient Experiences (AYA HOPE) Study advances:
    • AYAs reported high levels of unmet service needs (including financial, mental health, and support group service needs), which were associated with lower health-related quality of life (HRQOL). Published April 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
    • AYAs recently diagnosed with cancer have diminished physical and psychosocial HRQOL compared to similarly aged, healthy populations. Published May 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
    • Social information needs—talking about cancer experiences and meeting peer survivors—were higher among AYAs who were diagnosed in their 20s, who were Hispanic, who reported high symptom burden and/or lower quality of care, and who were not in support groups. Published June 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
  • See this PubMed list of selected free full-text journal articles on NCI-supported research relevant to adolescent and young adult cancers. You can also search PubMed for additional scientific articles or to complete a search tutorial.

Additional Resources for AYA Cancers

NCI Adolescents and Young Adults with Cancer Portal
Information about cancer in adolescents and young adults: treatment, clinical trials, support options, research, and other topics from the National Cancer Institute.

Focus Under Forty
A series of educational modules developed by American Society of Clinical Oncology and LIVESTRONG with input from the NCI. 

NCI’s AYA YouTube Playlist
Three videos where cancer researchers, advocates, and cancer survivors discuss AYA cancers and issues relevant to AYA cancers.

Adolescents and Young Adults with Cancer: Reports, Research, and Literature
Reports and research projects that address the special challenges facing adolescents and young adults with cancer and provide details about incidence, outcomes, and survival for this population.

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