Adolescents and Young Adults with Cancer
Types of cancer in adolescents and young adults (AYAs)
An estimated 85,980 adolescents and young adults (AYAs) between the ages of 15 to 39 will be diagnosed with cancer in the United States in 2023. This accounts for about 4% of all cancer diagnoses.
Cancer incidence rates among AYAs have been rising on average 0.3% each year from 2010 to 2019, according to Cancer Stat Facts: Cancer Among Adolescents and Young Adults (AYAs) (Ages 15–39), NCI’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program.
The most common cancers in adolescents and young adults (ages 15–39) are:
Other cancers that are common in adolescents and young adults include brain and other central nervous system tumors, cervical cancer, colorectal cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, and sarcomas (including bone cancer and soft tissue sarcoma). Learn about symptoms and how treatment is planned for these and other types of cancer on NCI’s cancer home pages: A to Z cancer types.
Most common cancers by age group in adolescents and young adults
The incidence of specific cancer types varies according to age. Some cancers are more common in adolescents, while others are more common in young adults.
Ages 15 to 19:
Ages 20 to 29:
Ages 30 to 39:
Learn more about trends in age-adjusted cancer incidence and mortality rates, in adolescents and young adults.
Most common cancers in adolescents and young adults according to sex
Some types of cancers are more common in males, whereas other cancers are more common in females.
Most common cancers among adolescent and young adult males:
Most common cancers among adolescent and young adult females:
Survival rates for cancer in adolescents and young adults
Survival rates are increasing among AYAs with cancer. Overall average death rates have been falling 0.9% each year from 2011 to 2020. While relative survival rates are high, at 86% for AYAs when all cancer types are combined, survival rates are much lower for some types of cancer than for others.
Learn more about survival rates for different types of cancer.
Finding a doctor and hospital after a cancer diagnosis
Because cancer in young adults is rare, it is important to find an oncologist who specializes in treating the type of cancer you have. Research is finding that for some types of cancer, young adults may have better outcomes if treated with pediatric, rather than adult, treatment regimens.
Young adults who have a cancer that typically occurs in children and adolescents, such as brain tumors, leukemia, osteosarcoma, and Ewing sarcoma, may be treated by a pediatric oncologist. These doctors are often affiliated with a hospital that is a member of the Children’s Oncology Group . However, young adults who have cancers that are more common in adults are often treated by a medical oncologist through hospitals that are affiliated with an NCI-Designated Cancer Center or a clinical research network such as NCTN or NCORP.
Learn more about finding a doctor and how to get a second opinion in Finding Health Care Services. A second opinion may be especially helpful when there are complicated medical decisions that need to be made, there are different treatment options to choose from, you have a rare cancer, or the first opinion on the treatment plan comes from a doctor who doesn’t specialize in or treat many young adults with the type of cancer that you have.
Cancer treatment choices
The type of treatment you receive is based on the type of cancer you have and how advanced the cancer is (its stage or grade). Factors such as your age, overall health, and personal preference are also important.
Your treatment options may include a clinical trial or standard medical care.
- Standard medical care (also called standard of care) is treatment that experts agree is appropriate and accepted for a specific disease. The A to Z List of Cancers has information about treatment for specific types of cancer. You can also learn about treatments such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, stem cell transplants, surgery, and targeted therapies in Types of Treatment.
- Clinical trials, also called clinical studies, are carefully controlled research studies that test new ways to treat diseases, such as cancer. Clinical trials are conducted in a series of steps, called phases. Each phase aims to answer specific medical questions. Once a new treatment has been shown to be safe and effective in clinical trials, it may become the standard of care. You can get answers to commonly asked questions about clinical trials and search for clinical trials for the type of cancer you have.
Fertility Preservation Options
It is important to talk with your doctor about how treatment may affect your fertility. Learn about all of your fertility preservation options and see a fertility specialist before starting treatment. Research has found that although discussions of fertility preservation between doctors and young adult cancer patients are becoming more common, improvements are still needed.
Coping and support
Cancer can create a sense of isolation from friends and family, who may not understand what you are going through. As a young person, you may feel like you are losing your independence at a time when you were just starting to gain it. Perhaps you just began college, landed a job, or started a family. A desire for normalcy may keep you from sharing your experiences with friends. Learn about the unique ways that you can cope and find support: Emotional Support for Young People with Cancer.
Survivorship care planning after treatment
For many young people, the completion of treatment is something to celebrate. However, this time may also bring new challenges. You may worry that cancer will return or struggle to get used to new routines. Some young people enter this new phase feeling stronger, whereas others are more fragile. Most young people say the transition after treatment took longer and was more challenging than they anticipated. While most of the side effects that you had during treatment will go away, long-term side effects, such as fatigue, may take time to go away. Other side effects, called late effects, may not occur until months or even years after treatment.
Although follow-up care is important for all survivors, it is especially important for young adults. These check-ups can both reassure you and help to prevent and/or treat medical and psychological problems. Some young adults receive follow-up care at the hospital where they were treated, and others see specialists at late effect clinics. Talk with your health care team to learn what follow-up care you should receive and about possible places to receive it.
Two important documents to get written copies of, and to discuss with your doctor, include:
- A treatment summary, with detailed records about your diagnosis and the type(s) of treatment you received.
- A survivorship care plan or follow-up care plan, which addresses both physical and psychological follow-up care that you should receive after cancer treatment. The plan is usually different for each person, depending on the type of cancer and treatment received.
Studies have found that many young adult cancer survivors are often unaware of or underestimate their risk for late effects. Learn more about issues related to survivorship, and questions to ask your doctor, in our cancer survivorship section.
End-of-life care decisions
If the cancer you have cannot be cured, or continues to progress despite treatment, it may be called end-stage cancer or terminal cancer. Being told that treatment isn’t working and that you have end-stage cancer is exceptionally difficult to hear. Learn about issues that young people with end-stage cancer face. Get suggestions that can help you have conversations and make choices about end-of-life care and support: Young People Facing End-of-Life Care Decisions.
Organizations serving adolescents and young adults
A growing number of organizations serve the needs of AYAs with cancer. Some organizations help young people cope or connect with peers who are going through the same things. Others address topics such as fertility and survivorship. You can also search a range of general emotional, practical, and financial support services in NCI’s list of Organizations That Offer Cancer Support Services. You are not alone.
- American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO): Cancer in Young Adults
- Livestrong: Adolescents and Young Adults
- Stupid Cancer
- Ulman Foundation
Teens and Adolescents
Coping and Support
- Cancer and Careers
- First Descents
- Imerman Angels
- National Collegiate Cancer Foundation
Physical Activity and Outdoor Adventures
- National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS)
- Expect Miracles Foundation: Samfund grant program
- Young Survival Coalition (YSC)
Cancer-related tools and statistics for the AYA population
More cancer-related statistics and statistical tools are available to help you understand cancer in AYAs, children, and older adults from NCI’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program.