Most Common Cancers in Young Adults

The cancers that develop in young adults are different than those in children and older adults in many ways. They are often different subtypes, they have different biology, different tumor genetics, and are more likely to be related to hereditary cancer syndromes than in other population groups. The cancers often behave and respond to treatment differently, too.

Among people in their 20s, the most common cancers include blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, as well as thyroid cancer and testicular cancer. For patients in their 30s, breast cancer and melanoma are more common. Diagnoses of colon and rectal cancer are increasing among young adults, too.

Tumors in the brain and central nervous system can occur at any age, but about 20% of cases are diagnosed in people younger than age 35. More than 120 different types of brain tumors have been identified, yet most neurosurgeons treat a wide range of neurological disorders and see very few brain tumors. At Roswell Park, our team brings together neurosurgeons, neuro-oncologists and radiation oncologists who treat patients with brain tumors every day.

If you have symptoms — persistent daily headaches, changes in speech, hearing, vision or mood, difficulty with memory, balance, walking, numbness, weakness or tingling in arms or legs, or muscle jerking or twitching — you need a fast and accurate diagnosis.

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Breast cancer among women younger than age 40 is uncommon and only about 6% of cases occur in this age group. As a result, many general oncologists see few cases in young patients. However, when breast cancer does occur in young adults, it is more likely to be an aggressive subtype, related to a genetic mutation, and an advanced stage or metastatic at the time of diagnosis.

Unless you have a strong family history or a known genetic mutation, you probably didn’t even have a first screening mammogram yet.

If you are a young adult with a suspicion or diagnosis of breast cancer, you need a level of care and experience, plus access to the latest treatments, that’s available only at a comprehensive cancer center.

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Cancer of the cervix is more common among younger women and is most frequently diagnosed in women aged 35 to 44. Most cases are found early through routine screening with Pap and HPV testing. However, if you’re the patient with a suspicion or diagnosis of cervical cancer, there is nothing common about it.

Your treatment will need to integrate different therapy approaches from different cancer specialists such as gynecologic and radiation oncologists. And you’ll need a team experienced in the latest minimally-invasive and fertility-sparing surgical procedures.

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Colorectal cancer among younger adults is rising and incidence has doubled among people younger than age 50 since the 1990s. As experts explore potential causes of this alarming trend (obesity, sedentary lifestyle, changes in gut bacteria, unhealthy diet, chemicals in the environment, genetic conditions) most health organizations, including Roswell Park, now urge routine screening to start age 45, and younger if you’re African American or have other risk factors.

If you have symptoms — blood in the stool, change in bowel habits, abdominal discomfort, and others — you need a prompt and accurate diagnosis. Colorectal cancer in young adults is often diagnosed at advanced stages, requiring a complexity of care and expertise found only at a comprehensive cancer center. Roswell Park is designated a High Performing Hospital for Colon Surgery by U.S. New & World Report.

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Leukemias are blood cancers and occur when the bone marrow produces abnormal blood cells, crowding out the healthy cells making it difficult for them to carry oxygen to tissues, fight infections and control bleeding.

Symptoms of the disease can be vague — frequent fevers, infections, and nosebleeds, tiredness, weakness, headaches, and excessive bruising and bleeding. As a result, by the time many patients are diagnosed, starting treatment within 24 hours is often critical.

If you have symptoms or a diagnosis of leukemia, you need help fast from experts who treat leukemia every day. You need access to the newest drugs, blood and marrow transplant specialists and the latest treatments like cellular therapies. You need a comprehensive cancer center like Roswell Park to take care of you and not just your cancer.

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Lymphomas are blood cancers that begin in a type of white blood cell called a lymphocyte. These cancers affect the lymphatic system (part of the immune system) that includes your tonsils, spleen, thymus, and the body-wide network of lymph nodes and vessels. Of the two main types — Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) — Hodgkin lymphoma is less common overall, but more likely to be diagnosed in younger people age 15 to 40.

Multispecialty care by a team of providers including hematologists, surgical, medical and radiation oncologists, and more are essential to successful treatment. In addition, it’s important for you to have access to our Transplant & Cellular Therapy Center and the latest cutting-edge treatments.

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Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that is less common than basal cell or squamous cell cancer types, but it’s more likely to grow and spread quickly. Unfortunately, it’s also not as rare as it used to be — melanoma is one of the most common cancers found in people younger than age 30, especially in women.

Examine your skin carefully and seek an evaluation of any new spot or mole on the skin that’s changing in size, shape or color.

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Sarcomas fall into two main groups — soft tissue sarcomas that originate in muscles, tendons, fat, blood vessels or nerves, and bone sarcomas that begin in the bones or joints. All sarcomas are rare cancers but are found more commonly among young adults and teenagers. Soft tissue sarcomas can occur anywhere in the body and with more than 50 types of the disease, the multidisciplinary expertise its treatment requires can only be found a comprehensive cancer center.

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Testicular cancer can develop at any age, but it’s most frequently diagnosed in younger men, ages 20 to 35. While testicular cancer is often cured, appropriate diagnosis and treatment from a comprehensive cancer center is key. If you have a suspicion or diagnosis of testicular cancer, you’ll need the expertise of our pathologists, urologists and medical oncologists who see this cancer every day.

For the small number of patients who experience cancer recurrence, access to clinical trials and our accredited Transplant & Cellular therapy center will become vital.

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Cancer of the thyroid, the small, butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck, is the most common cancer in younger women ages 20 to 24. Overall, three times more women than men develop thyroid cancer. Survival of thyroid cancer is high, with more than 98% surviving five years after diagnosis.

Thyroid cancer care offered through a comprehensive cancer center is key as treatment involves multiple subspecialists from surgery, nuclear medicine, endocrinology and genetics working together.

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Cancer treatment at Roswell Park

Your cancer treatment will be planned and delivered by a clinical care team that includes cancer experts from different specialty areas — surgical, medical and radiation oncologists, plus other medical specialists — who focus on your cancer type and understand that as a young adult, you may require different treatment regimens and options, and that you may have different goals.

Call us for an appointment or second opinion. We’ll arrange for our experts to review your scans and pathology and set up a consultation.

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Questions?

For more information about the Young Adult program at Roswell Park, call 1-800-ROSWELL.