Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer

Adolescent/young adult (AYA) cancers affect those between the ages of 15 and 39. While not as common cancer in older adults, this type of cancer is far more prevalent than childhood cancer. The most common cancer types in this age range are largely different from those in children or older adults. Over the past 30 years, AYA cancer incidence has increased more than any other age group1.

What are the different types of adolescent/young adult cancer?

The most common types of AYA cancer include:

  • Brain and Spinal Tumors
  • Melanoma
  • Breast Cancer
  • Osteosarcoma
  • Cervical Cancer
  • Ovarian Cancer
  • Colorectal Cancer
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma
  • Ewing Family of Tumors
  • Soft Tissue Sarcoma
  • Leukemia
  • Testicular Cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Thyroid Cancer

Read more about these types of AYA cancer at:

What are the symptoms of adolescent/young adult cancer?

Common symptoms of AYA cancer are shared with many different illnesses.

Some symptoms of AYA cancer include:

  • Weight loss
  • Headache
  • Swelling or persistent pain in bones, joints, back or legs
  • Lumps
  • Excessive bruising or bleeding
  • Nausea or consistent tiredness
  • Recurrent fever

How is adolescent/young adult cancer diagnosed?

For diagnosis information particular to different types of cancer, please consult our specific cancer overviews.

Physical Exams are visual and physical inspections of the body for common symptoms of AYA cancer. These exams will tend to focus on the thyroid, testicles, ovaries, lymph nodes, mouth, throat, and skin.

Lab tests measure the composition and function of different elements of the body. For AYA cancer, these may include blood tests, urine tests, and other tests such as organ function tests.

Imaging tests create pictures of the inside of your body to take a closer look at potential tumors. These may include x-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, bone scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, positron emissions tomography (PET) scans, ultrasounds, and other tests.

Biopsy is the removal and examination of a small amount of suspicious tissue under the microscope.

What are the different stages of adolescent/young adult cancer?

Staging varies for each particular type of AYA cancer. For more information about the staging of common AYA cancers, please consult specific cancer overviews.

What are the treatments for adolescent/young adult cancer?

This AYA cancer treatment information does not outline the particular treatment(s) a patient will receive. Rather, it provides general information about the typical treatments used for AYA cancer’s in general. For more information about the treatment of particular AYA cancers, please consult specific cancer overviews.

Surgery is used to remove all or part of a tumor. The type of surgery and the goal of surgery will depend on cancer diagnosis and stage.

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. The delivery of chemotherapy, in terms of when and how much, will depend on the type of cancer and its stage.

Radiation therapy uses high-energy particles or rays to kill cancer cells. The use of radiation therapy will be determined based on the type of cancer and its stage.

What are the risk factors of adolescent/young adult cancer?

  • Previous cancer treatments: Treatment for childhood cancer increases the risk of being diagnosed with a second primary cancer in teenagers and young adults.
  • Infections: Epstein-Barr Virus and Human Papilloma Virus are associated with increased AYA rates of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and cervical cancer.
  • Genes: Certain genetics syndromes like Li Fraumeni syndrome (LFS), Down Syndrome, Lynch syndrome, Germ-line mutations, and the presence of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are associated with higher rates of AYA cancer.
  • Puberty and Growth: Adolescent growth spurts are correlated to higher rates of osteosarcoma.
  • UV Radiation: Exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is an established factor in development of melanoma in teenagers and young adults.
  • Smoking: Smoking doubles risk of developing cervical pre-cancerous lesions in young women, after controlling for HPV infection

How are adolescent/young adult cancers prevented?

  • Quitting or never starting to smoke
  • Limiting time spent in the sun and avoiding tanning salons will decrease risk of developing skin cancers.
  • Limiting sex partners and using safe sex practices lower the risk of infection with human papilloma virus (HPV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) which are linked to cervical cancer, Kaposi sarcoma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
  • Vaccines are available to help prevent infection with HPV (human papilloma virus), the group of viruses linked to cervical and some other cancers.
  • The risk of cervical cancer increases for women in their 20s and 30s. So, it is recommend that women schedule regular cervical cancer screenings at age 21 to increase the likelihood of early detection.
Mikayla D. Williams , BS student , University of Arizona
Michael Principe, MA, Information Resources and Library Science
Works Cited: 
National Cancer Institute (2006). Closing the gap: Research and care imperatives for adolescents and young adults with cancer.
Works Consulted: 
American Cancer Society (2014). Adolescent/Young Adult Cancer.
American Society of Clinical Oncology (2014). For young adults.
National Cancer Institute (2014). Adolescents and young adults with cancer.