About cancer in young people

Cancer in young people (15-25 years) is difficult to diagnose as it’s quite rare. Early recognition and diagnosis will help ensure that more young people diagnosed with cancer have early access to the best course of treatment and age-appropriate psychosocial care.

Cancer outcomes for adolescents and young adults have not improved as much as outcomes for adults or children because young people traditionally have not received age-appropriate treatment and support.

Diagnosing cancer in young people

Cancer in adolescents and young adults is rare, but about 1000 Australians aged 15-25 years are diagnosed each year.

Cancer in this age group can be difficult to diagnose because the signs can be very similar to other more common medical problems. Recognising the early warning signs of cancer for adolescents and young adults is key to timely treatment and the best outcomes for these young patients.

The most common signs of cancer in young people aged 15–25 are:

  • Unexplained and persistent pain that doesn’t go away with painkillers. The pain can be experienced anywhere in or on the body.
  • An unexplained lump, bump or swelling, which can appear anywhere on or in your body such in your bones, joints, muscles, neck, armpits, groin or stomach.
  • Significant weight loss not related to exercise or dieting.
  • Extreme tiredness or chronic fatigue.
  • Fever or high temperature that persists for a number of weeks. This could include night sweats.
  • Changes in a mole.
  • Nagging, unrelieved headaches that may also cause blurred or double vision or make the patient feel unsteady or unable to think clearly.

 

The Youth Cancer Service has developed an ‘early warning signs’ flyer that can be printed for display in your waiting room or distribution.

 

Treating and supporting young people with cancer

For adolescents and young adults, a diagnosis of cancer and subsequent treatment come during a period of significant development change, often leading to unique physical, social and emotional impacts.

It’s important in caring for young people with cancer to promote and support normal development. This means:

  • understanding the developmental stages of adolescence and supporting normal adolescent health and development alongside cancer management
  • understanding and supporting the rights of young people
  • communication skills and information delivery modes that are appropriate to the young person
  • addressing the needs of all involved, including the young person, family and/or carer(s)
  • working with educational institutions and workplaces
  • addressing survivorship and palliative care needs.

Adolescents and young adults have unique biomedical and psychosocial needs. For example, there should be proactive discussion and management of fertility preservation, sexual health and potential late effects of treatment, and support for patients to adjust to life after cancer.

Youth Cancer Services (YCSs) are specialised treatment and support services for young people with cancer, designed to address these needs. YCSs provide young people with access to multidisciplinary, disease-specific, developmentally-targeted care including medical treatment, psychosocial support, allied health services, access to fertility preservation, clinical trials and educational and vocational support.

You can refer patients to the nearest Youth Cancer Service or contact the service for advice and support in treating for a young person with cancer.