These cancers are on the rise for young Americans but it’s not clear why

With the unexpected colon cancer death of actor Chadwick Boseman at 42, oncologists are prioritizing cases in younger communities.

It has been previously suggested that colon cancer diagnoses, in particular, have been on the rise among demographics under the age of 40. But a new risk assesment from the American Cancer Society calculates a similar trend, only more broadly.

The organization reports that an estimated 90,000 people between the ages of 15 and 39 years-old will be diagnosed with cancer in 2020.

“Cancer statistics for adolescents and young adults (AYAs) (aged 15‐39 years) are often presented in aggregate, masking important heterogeneity. The authors analyzed population‐based cancer incidence and mortality for AYAs in the United States by age group (ages 15‐19, 20‐29, and 30‐39 years), sex, and race/ethnicity. In 2020, there will be approximately 89,500 new cancer cases and 9270 cancer deaths in AYAs,” the authors wrote of their findings newly published in the CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

“Overall cancer incidence increased in all AYA age groups during the most recent decade (2007‐2016), largely driven by thyroid cancer, which rose by approximately 3% annually among those aged 20 to 39 years and 4% among those aged 15 to 19 years. Incidence also increased in most age groups for several cancers linked to obesity, including kidney (3% annually across all age groups), uterine corpus (3% in the group aged 20‐39 years), and colorectum (0.9%‐1.5% in the group aged 20‐39 years.)”

Cancer statistics on the rise for adolescents and young adults in 2020

The research seemed to suggest that stigmas surrounding cancer patients are fighting against the developments made on behalf of treatment.

Because younger populations are thought to rarely develop cancers, their early symptoms often get chalked up to less serious conditions–delaying therapeutics.

The truth of the matter is, for those between the ages of 15 and 19 and those between the ages of 20 and 29, and 30 and 39 cancer rates rose dramatically between 2007 and 2016.

Late detection was instrumental in rising mortality rates. Young people were the least likely cohort studied to have health insurance.

According to the authors, teens ages 15-19 are more likely to develop childhood-related cancers like Hodgkin lymphoma, while Americans over the age of 20 are more likely to develop breast cancer.

Americans just under 30 more frequently develop leukemia. For Americans between 30 and 39, breast cancer in women and colorectal cancer in men are the leading causes of cancer-related mortalities.

The survival rates for all forms of cancer reported in the new paper for the AYAs reviewed is somewhere between 83 and 86%. AYAs expressed a collective 60 percent survival rate for acute lymphocytic leukemia.

Among younger children, this value is closer to 84%.

“Although there has been rapid progress in the scientific understanding of cancer in AYAs over the last decade, several research gaps in etiology, basic biology, treatment, and survivorship remain,” the authors explained in a media release. “AYAs diagnosed with cancer also continue to face challenges in health care access during early life transitions, which can negatively impact treatment.”

The ACA reports the following to be the most common predictions of cancer in young adults.

  • An unusual lump or swelling, especially in the neck, breast, belly, or testicle
  • Unexplained tiredness and loss of energy
  • Easy bruising
  • Abnormal bleeding
  • Ongoing pain in one part of the body
  • Unexplained fever or illness that doesn’t go away
  • Frequent headaches, sometimes along with vomiting
  • Sudden eye or vision changes
  • Loss of appetite or unplanned weight loss
  • A new mole or other spot on the skin, or one that changes in size, shape, or color