Healthcare workers must have better awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer in teenagers and young adults, experts have said.
Mike Stevens, professor of paediatric oncology at the University of Bristol, made his comments after figures show that one-year survival rates “vary significantly” among youngsters who get the disease.
A new report by Public Health England’s National Cancer Intelligence Network suggests the percentage of those who die within 12 months varies greatly according to cancer type, with leukaemia and soft tissue sarcoma having the highest proportion of deaths.
Researchers, who studied 2,000 patients aged 15 to 24, found that only 0.5% of Hodgkin lymphoma patients died within a year of diagnosis compared to 23% of those with acute myeloid leukaemia.
While more than 90% of 15-to-24-year-olds survive for at least a year after diagnosis, every year around 116 teenagers and young adults in England do not survive that long.
Prof Stevens, who is also chair of the network’s children, teenage and young adults clinical reference group, said: “Several influences are likely to be involved in explaining these findings. In some cancers, such as acute myeloid leukaemia, early deaths may be due to patients not responding to, or from complications of, the intensive treatment required.
“There is also the possibility that early diagnosis and decreasing the time from first cancer symptom to the start of treatment may prevent a proportion of early deaths, so it’s important to improve awareness among health professionals about the signs and symptoms of cancer in teenagers and young adults.
“It is important to be aware of the number of patients who die early after diagnosis and more work is needed to understand why these deaths occur and what can be done to reduce them.”
Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK’s executive director, said: “Any diagnosis of cancer in children or teenagers is devastating. And high numbers surviving the disease for just a year isn’t a cause for celebration, though it does demonstrate that we’re making progress.
“Like any parent of a child with cancer, we desperately want to find a cure. While small steps are being made in the right direction, we know there’s still so much to be done so that no parent has to go through the anguish of losing a child.
“The real challenge is to find better treatments as well as speeding up the time it takes to diagnose the disease in younger people - picking a cancer up early greatly increases the chance of survival. And, as this report suggests, we need to find ways to ensure no matter the type of cancer, young people have the same chance of surviving the disease.”
Gill Lovitt, teenage and young people’s advisor for Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “It is startling that there is so much variation in teenage survival rates.
“This research shows just how vital it is that teenagers and young people with cancer are treated with the appropriate treatment and care for their specific age. This is particularly important after treatment when teenagers become adults but still need follow up care designed to suit their changing needs.”
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