Cancers in adolescents and young adults are uncommon but can have far-reaching consequences and a substantial disease burden (Begg et al. 2007). There is also growing recognition that young people with cancer have distinct biological, psychosocial and information needs (Bleyer 2009; Palmer & Thomas 2008). This is the first report to present a comprehensive picture of national statistics on cancer in young Australians aged 15–29. It provides an evidence base to underpin improvements in cancer outcomes as part of a broader initiative to reduce the impact of cancer on adolescents and young adults.
Cancer incidence has become steady and cancer mortality has fallen
Between 1983 and 1996, cancer incidence in adolescents and young adults increased by 1.5% per year, after which there was no significant change in the rates to 2007. However, cancer mortality in those aged 15–29 decreased by 1.9% per year between 1983 and 2007.
Melanoma was the most common cancer diagnosed and brain cancer was the leading cause of cancer death
In the period 2003–2007, 8,783 new cases of reportable cancer were diagnosed among adolescents and young adults aged 15–29. This represented an age-standardised rate of 419 cases per million. Cancers in adolescents and young adults accounted for 1.7% of all cancer cases diagnosed in Australia. The most common cancer diagnosed in this age group was melanoma.
During the same period, there were 1,018 cancer deaths in adolescents and young adults, comprising 9% of all deaths in this age group. The leading cause of cancer death was brain cancer.
Survival from cancer in adolescents and young adults was relatively high and has improved
In the period 2004–2010, adolescents and young adults with cancer were 95% as likely to live 1 year and 88% as likely to live 5 years after diagnosis as their counterparts in the general population.
Relative survival was highest for adolescents and young adults with thyroid carcinoma, followed closely by gonadal germ cell cancer, Hodgkin lymphoma and melanoma.
Between 1983–1989 and 2004–2010, 5-year relative survival from all cancers increased significantly from 80% to 88% in adolescents and young adults. There were significant increases in survival from most cancers, with the greatest improvement for leukaemias.
Outcomes for adolescents and young adults vary
In the period 2003–2007, adolescents and young adults living outside Major cities were more likely to be diagnosed with and to die from cancer than their counterparts in Major cities.
There was no significant association between survival and remoteness area; however, relative survival from all cancers was higher for adolescents and young adults living in areas of the highest socioeconomic status than for their counterparts in areas of the lowest socioeconomic status.