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

If you or someone you know needs help, contact CanTeen Support on 1800 835 932 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

This is the third national report to present comprehensive national statistics on cancer in adolescents and young adults aged 15–24. It provides an overview of cancers in young Australians, as well as key summary measures, including incidence, treatment, survival, prevalence, mortality, and disease burden. It also includes a spotlight section focusing on second and subsequent primary cancers in young Australians.

Cancers in young Australians are rare, but have a large impact

In 2014–2018, 5,302 new cases of cancer (excluding basal and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin) were diagnosed in people aged 15–24 an average of just under 3 cases per day.

In 2021, cancer accounted for 7.7% of all deaths of people aged 15–24. In 2022, cancer was the 10th leading cause of overall disease burden in young people, and the second leading cause of fatal burden. People aged 15–24 lost 6,848 disability‑adjusted life years from cancer, with most (93%) of the burden due to dying prematurely.

Hodgkin lymphoma was the most common cancer, and bone cancers and central nervous system cancers were the leading causes of cancer mortality

In 2014–2018, Hodgkin lymphoma was the most commonly diagnosed cancer in people aged 15–24, accounting for 13% of all cancers diagnosed. Incidence rates for Hodgkin lymphoma increased from 25 new cases per 1,000,000 in 1984–1988 to 43 new cases per 1,000,000 in 2014–2018. Melanoma of the skin, testicular germ cell cancers, carcinoma of the thyroid and carcinoma of the colon and rectum were the next most common, at 12%, 12%, 11% and 10% of all cancers, respectively.

In 2013–2017, bone cancers and central nervous system cancers were the leading causes of cancer mortality in people aged 15–24, each accounting for 17% of all cancer deaths. Soft tissue sarcomas were responsible for 15% of all cancer deaths.

Cancer survival is high

In 2014–2018, people aged 15–24 diagnosed with cancer had, on average, a 90% chance of surviving for 5 years compared with other people their age. Relative survival from all cancers combined for people aged 15–24 rose from 79% in 1984–1988 to 90% in 2014–2018, though changes in 5-year relative survival varied between cancer types. As at 31 December 2018, there were 4,974 alive people who had been diagnosed with cancer within the previous 5 years while aged between 15 and 24 years.

Over 11,300 hospital admissions and at least 37,000 services at outpatient clinics

In 2020–21, there were 11,300 hospitalisations of people aged 15–24 due to cancer, as well as at least 37,000 services provided at hospital outpatient clinics.

The most common cancers associated with hospital admission were acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (16% of admissions), Hodgkin lymphoma (14%) and bone cancer (11%), as well as testicular cancer for males and acute myeloid leukaemia for females.

Almost 70% of hospitalisations were same-day admissions.

In 2020–21, an estimated 17,000 chemotherapy and 11,600 radiotherapy services were provided to people aged 15–24 in Australia.

Some subpopulations have poorer cancer outcomes

Adjusted 5-year relative cancer survival among people aged 15–24 was:

  • 82% for Indigenous people and 89% for non-Indigenous people
  • broadly similar across states and territories
  • similar in Major cities (90%) and Inner regional areas (90%), but lower in Outer regional (87%) and Remote and Very remote areas (80%).
  • lower in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas (87%) than in more advantaged areas (90%–92%).

Young cancer survivors are at an increased risk of developing a second cancer

For cancer survivors who had been diagnosed as an adolescent or young adult, the risk of developing a second primary cancer was, on average, 1.9 times as high as for the general population, and varied from cancer to cancer.

Between 1984 and 2018, 1,009 second cancers were diagnosed among the 31,246 individuals who had been diagnosed with cancer when aged 15–24 since 1984. Of these, 76 were diagnosed with a third cancer in this period, and of these, 3 were diagnosed with a fourth cancer.

The risk of developing a second cancer appears to have remained broadly similar between 1984 and 2018.

Of subsequent cancers, 20% were in people who had been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma when aged 15–24, while 19%, 8% and 6% were in people who had been diagnosed with melanoma of the skin, testicular germ cell cancer and thyroid carcinoma, respectively, when aged 15–24.

The percentage surviving after diagnosis has increased with each successive cohort.