Improved outcomes for young Aussies with cancer

This media release contains information some readers may find distressing as it refers to data about cancer incidence and deaths among adolescents and young adults.

Cancer-related death rates among adolescents and young adults have more than halved from 62 to 29 deaths per million population over the past few decades, according to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The national report, Cancer in adolescents and young adults 2023, presents comprehensive statistics on cancer in young Australians aged 15–24. Among this age group, cancer is responsible for 8% of fatal burden, second to injury (74%).

‘Cancer is rare in young people and, for most types of cancer, survival rates are high,’ said AIHW spokesperson Justin Harvey.

‘Between 1984–1988 and 2014–2018, the 5-year relative survival for all cancers combined in people aged 15–24 gradually increased from 79% to 90%. This improvement in survival may be due to factors such as diagnosing cancers at an earlier stage and improvements over time in cancer treatments.’

The report shows that, despite survival rates increasing, the number of new cases of cancer diagnosed in young Australians has grown over time.

‘The number of new cases increased from around 3,800 in 1984–1988 to 5,300 in 2014–2018. This trend reflects the increasing number of 15–24 year olds in the Australian population,’ Mr. Harvey said.

However, incidence rates have remained relatively unchanged since 1994 at 334 per million.

In 2016–2020, there were 458 people aged 15–24 who died due to cancer.

‘This means that on average, a young person died from cancer every 4 days in Australia,’ Mr. Harvey said.

Mortality rates have consistently been higher for males than females, however this gap has narrowed over time.

‘While both males and females have experienced a decrease in mortality rates since 1981–1985, the decline has been greater for males,’ Mr. Harvey said.

In 2013–2017, more than half (56%) of cancer-related deaths were among males.

Bone cancer, soft-tissue sarcomas and central nervous system cancers accounted for almost half (48%) of all cancer-related deaths of people aged 15–24 between 2013–2017.

Among adolescents and young adults in 2014–2018, the 3 most commonly diagnosed cancers were Hodgkin lymphoma (13%), melanoma (12%) and testicular germ cell cancers (12%). Although incidence rates were high, all 3 types of cancer had a 5-year relative survival rate of 97% or higher.

Melanoma rates have decreased from 106 to 42 cases per million between 1994–1998 and 2014–2018.

‘This strong decline is likely due to prevention campaigns about sun safety behaviours and increased community awareness,’ Mr. Harvey said.

Despite this decline, melanoma was still the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in adolescents and young adults in 2014–2018.

Australian adolescents and young adults have a higher overall 5-year relative survival compared with any other age group.

Notably, the 5-year relative survival rate for blood cancers improved by 27 percentage points between 1984–1988 and 2014–2018.

The report shows young cancer survivors are at an increased risk of developing a second cancer.

‘Cancer survivors who had been diagnosed as an adolescent or young adult were found to be almost twice as likely as the general population to develop a second primary cancer,’ said Mr. Harvey.

Of the 31,246 people diagnosed with cancer when aged 15–24 since 1984, 1,009 second cancers were diagnosed. However, there appears to be no additional risk of developing a second cancer after initial diagnosis of melanoma in adolescents and young adults.

AIHW media enquiries: [email protected]

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