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More cases of cancer in young Australians but survival has improved

27 April, 2018

More young Australians are being diagnosed with cancer, but survival prospects have improved markedly in this younger age group, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Cancer in adolescents and young adults in Australia, shows that the rate of cancer in young people (aged 15–24) has risen from 283 new cases per million in 1985–1989 to 308 new cases per million in 2010–2014.

In the period 2010–2014, more than 4,800 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in young Australians—an average of 2–3 diagnoses every day.

Melanoma was the most commonly diagnosed cancer among young Australians, accounting for about 15% of all new cancer diagnoses, followed by gonadal germ cell cancer and Hodgkin lymphoma (at about 14% each). This was followed by thyroid carcinoma (9%), and colorectal carcinoma (7%).

However, over the previous 25 years rates of melanoma fell from 96 cases per million young Australians to 44 cases per million.

‘Cancer was responsible for almost 9% of all deaths in young people,’ said AIHW spokesperson Justin Harvey.  

Brain cancer was the leading cause of cancer deaths in young Australians, accounting for 18% of deaths from cancer in 2011–2015.

‘The good news is that cancer survival has improved for young people. ,’ Harvey said.

‘Almost 9 in 10 (89%) young people had survived 5 years past their cancer diagnosis in 2010–2014, up from 8 in 10 (80%) in 1985–1989,’ Harvey said.

Over the previous three decades, 725 second cancers were diagnosed in those who had their first cancer diagnosed as a young person. The majority of second cancers followed an initial diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma, followed by melanoma, gonadal germ cell cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The risk of developing a second cancer was 1.9 times as high in those initially diagnosed with cancer as a young person compared with the risks normally experienced by the general population.

‘However, fewer than 4% of young people who survived their first cancer developed a second cancer,’ Harvey said.

The statistics presented on cancer in young Australians were produced using the latest national data available. While the data can be 2-3 years old, this ensures the data are complete, reliable, high quality and consistent with international standards.

The AIHW regularly updates national cancer data as more recent data become available from states and territories and works in partnership with them to reduce the time taken to compile the national dataset.

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