April 16, 2009

From CTV.ca News Staff

While more young people are being diagnosed with cancer every year, the good news is that more are also surviving, reports the Canadian Cancer Society.

According to "Canadian Cancer Statistics 2009," released Thursday, there are about 2,075 new cancer cases per year in young adults aged 15 to 29. There are also about 326 deaths per year.

The incidence rates increased in both sexes between 1996 and 2005: males by 0.8 per cent per year and females by 1.4 per cent per year.

But the five-year survival for this age group rose five per cent from 1992 and 1995, to an encouraging to 85 per cent.

As well, death rates declined in both sexes between 1995 and 2004; males by 2.9 per cent per year and females by 1.4 per cent per year.

The most common cancer diagnoses for young males are testicular cancer and lymphoma. The most common cancers for young females are thyroid cancer and lymphoma.

For both young males and females, the most common cause of cancer death is leukemia.

While the increase in survival is good news, the numbers do not tell the story, says Loraine Marrett, Chair of the Statistics Steering Committee and an epidemiologist with Cancer Care Ontario.

"The relatively small number of young people with cancer does not accurately convey the huge impact this disease has on the patients, their families and society," she says.

While a cancer diagnosis is devastating for anyone, it can be especially difficult for a young person, says Heather Logan, Senior Director, Cancer Control Policy and Information, Canadian Cancer Society.

"These young people are in high school or university, building a career or raising a family. Cancer is not something they were expecting to deal with at this stage of their lives."

Because cancer in young adults is relatively rare, many patients feel isolated and unable to find peers for emotional support, the report says.

Once diagnosed, young cancer patients are often overwhelmed trying to navigate through a cancer system that is not tailored to them. They may not always receive the best care because pediatric and adult oncologists are less familiar with how to best treat and support teenagers and young adults.

Young people may receive less aggressive treatments designed for older adults, even though they may be physiologically capable of tolerating more intensive therapies.

Compared to children, teens and young adults are less likely to be enrolled in clinical trials, which are associated with better health outcomes. Only about 10 to 20 per cent of older teenagers with cancer take part in clinical trials compared to 80 per cent of children.

The Canadian Cancer Society chose to focus this year's report on cancer in adolescents and young people, noting that a lot more still needs to be learned about the distinct challenges of this age group.

Other findings of this year's report:

  • The five-year relative survival for all cancers combined in Canadians diagnosed in 2002-2004, (excluding Quebec) was 62 per cent. This is a 4.5 per cent increase from those diagnosed in 1992-1994.
  • The improvement in survival was greatest for non-Hodgkin lymphoma; prostate, colorectal and breast cancers; and leukemia.
  • Survival is highest for thyroid, testicular and prostate cancers and melanoma.
  • Survival is lowest for pancreatic, esophageal, lung and liver cancers. At the beginning of 2005, there were 695,000 people living with a cancer that had been diagnosed sometime in the previous 10 years. That about one in 46 Canadians.
  • The number of new cancer cases and deaths continues to rise steadily as the Canadian population grows and ages. There will be an estimated 171,000 new cases of cancer in 2009 -- an increase of 4,600 from last year.There will be an estimated 75,300 deaths from cancer - an increase of 1,500 from last year.
  • While the cancer death rate for Canadian females has remained relatively stable since 1980, the cancer death rate for males has been declining since 1988, as a result of decreases for prostate, lung and other cancers.