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Trends in AYA Cancer Incidence in the United States Over 4 Decades


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Cancer cases in adolescents and young adults (AYAs) have risen by 30% during the past 4 decades, with rates of kidney cancer increasing at the greatest rate, according to findings published by Scott et al in JAMA Network Open. The team said further research into screening, diagnosis, and treatment are needed to address the growing trend in this age group. 

Study coauthor Nicholas Zaorsky, MD, MS, Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology and Public Health Sciences at Penn State College of Medicine, said that cancer is the leading cause of disease-related death in this age group, and that the increasing number of cases is concerning. 

Nicholas Zaorsky, MD, MS

Nicholas Zaorsky, MD, MS

“Adolescents and young adults are a distinct cancer population,” said Dr. Zaorsky. “But they are often grouped together with pediatric or adult patients in research studies. It is important to study how this group is distinct so that care guidelines can be developed to address the increase in cases.”

Analysis Details

The researchers analyzed data—including sex, age at diagnosis, and type of cancer—from nearly half a million patients with cancer in the United States between the ages of 15 and 39 across more than 4 decades. The data were collected by the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program. The team’s goal was to determine the number of cancer cases in AYAs between 1973 and 2015.

During the time period studied, the researchers found cancer diagnoses increased from 57 to 74 per 100,000 AYA patients. The most common types in males were testicular cancer, melanoma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The most common types in females were breast, thyroid, cervical, and uterine cancers. Dr. Zaorsky, also a Penn State Cancer Institute researcher, said that the rates of kidney, thyroid, and gastrointestinal cancers are increasing in this age group.

“Other studies have shown these types are increasing among this age group,” said Dr. Zaorsky. “Our data reinforce the fact that clinicians should be on the lookout for these cancers in their AYA patients.”

According to Dr. Zaorsky, further research is needed to determine why kidney, thyroid, gastrointestinal, and other types of cancers are on the rise in AYAs. He said that environmental, dietary, and screening changes during the time period studied may have contributed to the increased incidences.

“These cancers all have unique risk factors,” he said. “Now that there is a better understanding of the types of cancer that are prevalent and rising in this age group, prevention, screening, diagnosis, and treatment protocols specifically targeted to this population should be developed.”

Disclosure: This research was supported by the National Center for Advancing Translation Sciences through Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s Translational Science Fellowship. For full disclosures of the study authors, visit jamanetwork.com.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.
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