What types of cancer are most common among young people?

What types of cancer are most common among young people?

It has happened to many of us. We have heard that a well-known person under the age of 40 was diagnosed with cancer, had surgery and underwent complex treatments.

We may wonder why this is happening to this person at such a young age.

It may not be as common as it is in adults over the age of 60, but people between the ages of 15 and 39 are not without risk and can also develop cancer.

Indeed, the belief that the disease is an “old thing” can cause irreversible delayed detection and diagnosis.

“We are far from getting the right level of public awareness and knowledge about cancer in young people,” Daniel Stark, head of the UK’s Adolescent and Youth Oncology Unit, warns to BBC News Mundo, the BBC’s Spanish service.

So what are the most common types of cancer in this age group? Is there a way to prevent them?

The most common type of cancer in young people

According to various experts and various public health organizations consulted by the BBC, some of the most common types of cancer or groups of cancers between the ages of 15 and 39 worldwide are:

  • brain tumor;
  • breast cancer;
  • cervical cancer
  • Cancerous tumors: especially in the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Testicular and ovarian cancer.
  • thyroid cancer;
  • lymphoma;

Because many significant morphological changes occur between the ages of 15 and 39 years, the incidence of these cancers varies greatly with age.

Dr. explains. Annalisa Trama, MD, is a specialist at the National Institute of Oncology in Milan, Italy.

“In younger age groups, leukemias, lymphomas, nervous system cancers, sarcomas and tumors of the reproductive organs are more common,” Trama adds.

The incidence of cancer also varies by gender. Women are more likely to develop cancer of the breast, thyroid, cervix, and ovary.

“While the most common diagnoses in men are lymphoma, testicular cancer, leukemia and thyroid cancer,” the specialist says.

In the case of leukemia, it is a cancer that is more common in young people.

“It’s a disease that becomes less common after age 8-10,” Stark says.

Which is more dangerous?

According to Professor Stark, the tumors that present the greatest challenge for adolescents and young adults are brain tumors and carcinomas, especially those in the gastrointestinal tract.

“Brain tumors are a challenge because the possibilities for treatment and the prognosis for recovery are very poor,” says the specialist.

According to the British Public Health Service (NHS), brain tumors can manifest as headaches, seizures, dizziness, frequent nausea, memory problems, personality changes, progressive weakness and paralysis in one part of the body and problems with vision or speech.

In the case of gastrointestinal tumours, the challenge is that it remains a “changing region of cancer epidemiology”.

“We’ve seen a rapid increase in cancers in this area in young adults over the past 10 to 15 years,” Stark says. “It’s a disease we rarely see, but now it’s far from uncommon.”

According to the American Cancer Society, symptoms of gastrointestinal cancer can include loss of appetite, unexpected weight loss, abdominal pain and discomfort, heaviness in the stomach after a snack, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, bloating, abdominal pain, and blood in the stomach. Stool and anemia.

The organization explains that these symptoms are also common in other diseases, but if they persist, a doctor should be consulted to clarify the causes.

Why do cancers at these ages pose such a challenge?

Although the chances of developing cancer in adolescents and young adults are lower than in older ages, this population group has certain characteristics that increase its risk when it comes to treatment and identification.

For example, given the ages at which many physiological changes occur, the epidemiology of cancer includes pediatric and adult tumors.

“This group also has specific tumors and genomic biology, which is different from children and the elderly. In addition, due to the difference in age, the pharmacology is different, as is the potential impact of treatment efficacy,” Trama explains.

Added to this is the lack of awareness of the possibility of cancer in this age group, a phenomenon that occurs both in patients and their families and in health professionals.

“It’s a group that also has limited involvement in clinical research and has difficulty accessing specialized treatments,” Trama says.

To some extent, this is due to the fact that until the past few decades, much of the research on cancer focused on childhood tumors or the adult population, according to Ronald Barr, MD, professor emeritus of pediatrics at McMaster University in Hamilton. in Canada.

“An adult gets cancer at an average age of 65. If you think about it, those under the age of 40 get it relatively less and end up in a state of limbo where they weren’t young or old enough for treatment.” by oncologists who used to treat people over the age of 60,” Barr says.

And although more efforts have been made in recent years to solve this problem, experts consulted by BBC News Mundo point out that there is still much work to be done.

Between over-diagnosis and under-diagnosis

Finding a balance between the problem of overdiagnosis and underdiagnosis is one of the greatest medical challenges in dealing with cancer in adolescents and young adults.

On the other hand, there is a large percentage of young people with cancer that has never been diagnosed.

“Most of them live in low- and middle-income countries (in areas like South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia), which is unfortunately where the largest number of people live,” Barr says.

“Many patients in these areas may never go to the hospital or arrive too sick to get a definitive diagnosis,” Stark adds.

For reasons like these, experts warn that it will be difficult to generate more concrete data on a global scale on the more accurate incidence of cancer in young people.

However, overdiagnosis has become a challenge that hampers both statistics and medical solutions.

It happens, for example, with thyroid cancer. In countries like the United States, thyroid cancers are diagnosed by ultrasound tests.

Stark says these tests are often done by people who are inexperienced and have no real need to perform them. This results in a distorted picture of the true size of thyroid cancer, with many diagnoses confirmed in cases where there is no real risk of exacerbation.

“There are cancers or precancerous conditions that, even if they grow, may never cause problems. Overdiagnosis can treat one of these cancers as if it were a disease that requires more aggressive management,” Stark says.

This causes some patients to end up receiving a lot of radioactive material, major surgery, or toxic drugs when they only need to be monitored, evaluated and treated when the problem becomes a concern.


Trama lists some of the cancers that have been linked to unhealthy lifestyles and conditions such as obesity: gastrointestinal cancer, thyroid cancer, or ovarian cancer. In other words, they are likely to be prevented by following general recommendations such as those of the World Cancer Research Forum (WCRF).

Some of these guidelines include:

  • Maintaining an appropriate weight
  • Be physically active
  • a better diet, rich in a variety of whole grains, vegetables, fruits and vegetables;
  • Avoid high-calorie foods.
  • Limit consumption of red and processed meat, alcohol and sugary drinks.

Experts like Stark are also calling for greater awareness.

“We need young people to know the symptoms of cancer. We need them to know they can develop it, too, and we need doctors who take young people who go to oncology appointments seriously, rather than assuming they can’t develop it as cancer at that age,” says Stark. .

– This text was published at https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/geral-62660500

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