A news briefing at Teenage Cancer Trust's Third International Conference on Adolescent Cancer today (Monday 1 March) was told that although cancer is still rare in this age group around 1,500 cases a year in England it is the leading cause of death after accidents.
Professor Jill Birch, from the University of Manchester, [NB:see note at end of this release] who analysed data for 13 to 24-year-olds between 1979 and 2000, said that the overall rate had risen from 15.4 to 19.8 per 100,000 over the 21 year period 1979-2000. This amounts to an average increase of 1.2% per year.
Different cancers dominated at different ages. Among 13 and14-year-olds, leukaemia is the most common accounting for over 22% of cancers, followed by lymphoma (nearly 21%) and malignant brain tumours (18%). By age 15-19 lymphoma dominates (27%) with leukaemia second (15%) followed by carcinomas and malignant brain tumours (around 11% each). Lymphoma also dominated in 20 to 24-year olds with carcinomas second (21%) and germ cell tumours third (17%).
Much less is known about the causes and risk factors for adolescent and young adult cancer than for cancer in older adults.
Professor Birch, who is Cancer Research UK Professorial Research Fellow at Manchester University, said: "The early age of onset and lack of opportunity for chronic exposure to environmental factors suggests that genetic susceptibility may be important. Highly penetrant genes or mutations probably only account for a small proportion of cases. What is more likely is that cancer develops as a result of exposure to a risk factor in a genetically susceptible individual."