Survival Trends for Adolescents and Young Adults With Cancer: 40-Year Analysis

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Survival rates for adolescents and young adults diagnosed with cancer vary considerably depending on the type of malignancy. A new study published by Riedel Lewis et al in the journal Cancer indicated that survival for multiple cancer types in such patients has improved in recent years, but some patients diagnosed with common cancer types still show limited survival improvements.

For the study, investigators at the National Cancer Institute analyzed survival trends related to cancers with the highest mortality rates in adolescents and young adults. Relying on information from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) cancer registry and the National Center for Health Statistics, the team focused on incidence, mortality, and survival rates for nine cancer types from 1975 to 2016. By examining survival rates over time among adolescents and young adults with the most lethal forms of cancer, they were able to identify those cancers with the greatest need for future research.

Key Findings

The investigators uncovered significant improvements in 5-year survival for young patients with brain and other nervous system tumors, colon and rectal cancer, lung and bronchus cancer, acute myelogenous leukemia, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Limited or no improvement in survival was found for those with female breast cancer, cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, and bone/joint sarcomas.

  • Female breast cancer: 5-year relative survival increased from 1985 through 2007, while mortality declined from 1986 to 2012 and has increased since 2012.
  • Cervical cancer: 5-year relative survival remained steady from 1975 through 2011; there was a declining incidence rate and a flat mortality rate after 2005.
  • Ovarian cancer: 5-year relative survival rose slightly for the whole period; incidence and mortality rates dropped between 1993 and 1996.
  • Bone/joint sarcomas: 5-year relative survival increased from 1975 to 1989, before leveling off.

“As the SEER cancer data collection expands over time, including more years of diagnosis, we are able to piece together a larger part of the cancer survival story for the adolescent and young adult population in the United States,” said lead author Denise Riedel Lewis, PhD, MPH. “These results will help refocus our research efforts on adolescent and young adult cancer survivorship.”

The study authors concluded, “Five-year relative survival for multiple cancer types in adolescents and young adults has improved, but some common cancer types in this group still show limited survival improvements (eg, ovarian cancer). Survival improvements in colorectal cancer have been overshadowed by its rising incidence, which suggests a substantial disease burden. Future research should focus on female breast, bone, ovarian, and cervical cancers, which have seen minimal or no improvements in survival.”

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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®.