11 cancers that are on the rise in kids, teens, and young adults

  • Age is the most significant risk factor for cancer, and the median age for a cancer diagnosis is 66 years old.
  • While cancer in kids, teens, and young adults is pretty rare, there are at least 11 different forms of cancer that are on the rise in young people.
  • Doctors suspect that lifestyle factors like poor diets and extra body fat may play a key role in fuelling some of these cancers, which include colon, kidney, and pancreas cases.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Make no mistake about it, age is still the number one risk factor for developing cancer. The median age for a cancer diagnosis in the US today is 66 years old. Usually, cancer hits older folks hardest, as cells age and sustain more cancer-causing DNA damage. But not always.

According to the American Cancer Society, fewer than 1 in 100 cancer cases diagnosed every year are in children. Likewise, in the UK fewer than 1% of all cancer cases occur in people under 24 years old.

And, thanks to advances in treatments, 84% of children with cancer now survive at least five years, a big difference than the five-year survival rate of 58% during the mid-1970s.

Still, cancer is the second leading cause of death in children ages 1 to 14, with instances of certain cancers are going up among kids, teens, and young adults. About 1,190 kids under age 15 are expected to die from cancer in 2020, according to ACS.

Doctors worry that these diseases could prompt even more health troubles as the youngsters age. Here’s what oncologists have on their radar.

Childhood cancers are a far greater mystery to science than the kinds that adults get.

Taha Shakouri, an 8-year-old boy suffering from liver cancer, sits in his room at Mahak Children’s Hospital in Tehran, Iran, June 19, 2019. AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi

Most childhood cancers cannot be prevented or screened for, according to the World Health Organisation, and very few cancers in kids are prompted by environmental or lifestyle factors.

Scientists suspect that around 1 in 10 childhood cancers may stem from genetics, and say the best defence against childhood cancer is early diagnosis and treatment.

Survival rates for childhood cancers are much better in high-income countries, at about 80%, compared with just 20% in many low- and middle-income spots where it’s more difficult to get adequate treatment.

Even though the fraction of cancer cases that kids get is tiny, there are certain diagnoses that are on the rise, even in babies.


In the 25 years from 1988 to 2012, hepatoblastoma cases soared in tots from 0 to 4 years old.

Cases of leukemia, neuroblastoma, and ependymal tumours are also increasing in babies and toddlers, according to research released by the University of Minnesota in April 2019.

Hepatoblastoma is a rare form of cancer that starts in the liver. It doesn’t usually spread to other parts of the body.

Clowns entertain sick children at the cancer ward of Al-Rantisi Hospital in Gaza City on Sunday, June 2, 2019. AP Photo/Hatem Moussa

“While our research suggests hepatoblastoma is the fastest rising cancer in children under five, this is still a very rare cancer. This finding should not be concerning to parents,” lead study author Jenny Poynter said in a statement when her find was published in the journal JNCI Cancer Spectrum.

Hepatoblastoma cases in the 0 to 4 age group have been on the rise in every region of the world except south Asia since the late 1980s, with diagnoses up roughly 2 to 6.5% every year, depending on the region.

Kids with cancer who are successfully treated don’t emerge worry-free from future diseases, either. Childhood cancer survivors are at a heightened risk of developing health issues later in life, like heart disease.

Singer Francesca Battistelli (left) visits patients at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Centre of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Phil Skinner/AP Images for Macy’s

Childhood cancer survivors have up to a tenfold increased risk for heart failure, when compared to their peers who’ve never had cancer.

Part of the problem may be the life-saving chemotherapy treatments that many cancer patients undergo, which can “prematurely age the heart and accelerate the development of heart disease,” according to recent research published by the American Heart Association.

Diabetes and hypertension cases also seem to be more common in kids who’ve had cancer.

Cancer treatments can also compromise future fertility.

Surviving a childhood cancer can also come with non-health related burdens.


Getting cancer at a younger age also affects their ability to be productive at work and school, and can be a great financial burden as young people are more are more likely than older patients to lack health insurance or experience disruptions in their coverage, Stacey Fedewa, an epidemiologist said during the American Association for Cancer Research’s 2020 virtual meeting.

Vaccinating kids helps prevent certain types of cancer.


Contracting diseases early in life can increase a person’s risk of developing cancer. For example, some viruses trigger genetic changes in cells that can contribute to cancer later on.

The recommended HPV vaccine and hepatitis shots combat future cases of cervical and liver cancer, respectively.

As with babies, teenage and young adult cancer cases are still pretty rare.


Most cancer cases in people under 30 “appear to be spontaneous” and not hereditary or environmental, a group of childhood cancer experts wrote in The Oncologist in 2006.

But some obesity-related cancer rates are soaring in young people, and doctors are worried it’s a troubling sign of what’s to come.


“It turns out that the fat tissue is a very active organ and it plays a very important role in storing and releasing energy,” oncologist Neil Iyengar from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre told Insider. “When the fat tissue becomes dysfunctional in the setting of obesity, in the setting of hyper-adiposity (that’s high levels of fat in a normal weight person) then that fat pad becomes ripe for the development of cancer.”

Iyengar cautioned that even women who maintain a healthy weight can be at a greater risk for developing breast cancer, compared to their peers, if they have a high percentage of body fat, suggesting all poor diets can contribute to cancer risk, no matter how big or small a person may be.

Colon cancer rates are up sharply among young people, and cancer experts say poor diets may be to blame for some of those cases.


Early onset colorectal cancer is up significantly among people in their 30s and younger across many countries across the globe, including the US, UK, Australia, France, Ireland, Germany and at least eight other European countries.

Cases of colon cancer went up an average of up to 7.3% every year for people in their 30s in the UK from 2005 to 2014.

Compared to older adults, it’s still a relatively low number of additional cases (267 more recorded in the UK in 2014 compared to 2005), but the rise is notable and alarming.

Actor Chadwick Boseman’s death from colon cancer at age 43 may help raise awareness about the illness in young people.

“Knowing symptoms are important, screenings are important, but the most important thing is to realise that it can really happen at any age,” Shannon Costello, a mum who was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 29, previously told Insider. “People shouldn’t be dismissed just because of how ‘young’ they are.”

There’s some evidence that eating more of certain foods, like turmeric, could help.


“It’s probably, to the best of my knowledge, the most potent naturally occurring anti-inflammatory,” Ajay Goel, a biophysicist who researches cancer, previously told Business Insider.

Over time, chronic inflammation can prompt the DNA damage that leads to cancer. Sugar, red and processed meat, refined carbs, as well as fried and processed foods are all inflammatory.

Goel said that “the kind of crap we eat every day” can play a huge role in colon cancer development. Cancer research UK also estimates that roughly 1 in 5 cases of colon cancer stems from processed and red meat consumption.

Dr. Iyengar says one of the easiest and most effective ways to be kind to your gut is to feed it plants like veggies and whole grains.

Ocean Robbins, the grandson of a Baskin-Robbins founder, never eats ice cream. He prefers the cancer-fighting properties of fruits and veggies. Ocean Robbins

“The colon has evolved to digest complex carbohydrates, which are contained in plants,” Iyengar said. “We have a very long gut because of that. So you want to eat foods that have long processing time, to stay satiated. If you eat something that’s refined, that’s going to pass through your gut real quick and you’re going to be hungry again and you’re going to start taking in excess calories.”

How the gut develops early in life may also play a role in why colorectal cancers are on the rise among young people, according to presentations at the American Association of Cancer Research’s 2020 meeting.

For instance, Caesarean delivery, antibiotic use, not breastfeeding, and exposure to maternal stress may all increase the risk of a baby developing colorectal cancer later in life.

Endometrial cancer is on the rise in Americans from 25 to 49 years old too.


A study published in the Lancet in February 2019 pointed to the alarming rise in uterine cancer from 1995 to 2014, and suggested that “excess bodyweight could account for up to 60% of all endometrial cancers” in people over 30 years old.

Gallbladder cancer cases are also on an uptick.

Delicious, but not good for you. Shutterstock

The same Lancet study suggested excess bodyweight might contribute to 36% of gallbladder cancers in people over 30 years old.

“We’re just eating too much,” Goel said. Other cancer researchers are also studying how caloric restriction and intermittent fasting might be good for our long-term health.

In the US, kidney cancers in people from ages 25 to 29 also shot up 6.2% (on average) every year in the period from 1995 to 2014.


Kidney cancer is another obesity-related cancer.

Pancreas cancers are up in the US, and some of the sharpest gains are in 25 to 29 year olds.


Pancreatic cancer cases increased, on average, 4.3% for 25 to 29 year olds from 1995 to 2014.

Type-2 diabetes puts people at higher risk of developing this kind of cancer, and not only in the US.

“There is something going on here,” Dr Iyengar said. “It’s been hypothesised that in East Asia, as the Western diet becomes more prevalent, that might be contributing to the shifting pattern of presentation of various cancers there, obesity-related cancers.”

Multiple myeloma, a plasma cell cancer that affects the immune system, is another obesity-related disease that’s becoming more prevalent in the US.


Source: The Lancet

The risk of some of these obesity-related cancers to American millennials is twice what their parents (aka baby boomers) endured at the same age.

An Air New Zealand flight in the 1960s. Air New Zealand Archive

That’s true for colorectal, uterine, pancreas, and gallbladder cancers.

Breast cancer is rare in young women, and breast cancer rates are declining overall, but there are some early indications that it may be on the rise in younger generations, at least sometimes.


“60 and above is still the most common age group to be diagnosed with breast cancer, but the incidence is slowly declining,” Iyengar said. “The alarming thing is when you start to look at women in the age group of 30 to 34 and 20 to 29, while the rates of breast cancer are the lowest in this age group, the incidence is on the rise.”

Presentations at the American Association for Cancer Research’s 2020 meeting called breast cancer and colorectal cancer “the most rapidly increasing cancers in younger populations,” with breast cancer being the most common cause of cancer in women between 18 and 49.

Some researchers theorised that the rising age of childbirth may play a role, due to how the mammary gland during the postpartum period may affect tumour formation and metastasis.

There’s a racial disparity in breast cancer, too.

While rates still remain relatively stable for young white and black women in the US, a nationwide study that examined more than 14 million cancer cases from 1995 to 2014 suggested that breast cancer diagnoses may be going up in young Asian and Asian-American women at startling rates, something that other researchers have noticed is true across generations of Asian-American women. Scientists still aren’t sure why this is happening.

“Although the absolute risk of these cancers is small in younger adults, these findings have important public health implications,” American Cancer Society cancer epidemiologist Ahmedin Jemal said when his study was released suggesting that obesity-related cancers are on the rise in young adults across the US.


“The future burden of these cancers could worsen as younger cohorts age,” he said.