HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) — Cancer cases in adolescents and young adults have risen by 30% during the last four decades, with kidney cancer rising at the greatest rate, according to researchers at Penn State College of Medicine. The team said further research into screening, diagnosis, and treatment are needed to address the growing trend in this age group.

Assistant professor of radiation oncology and public health sciences, Dr. Nicholas Zaorsky, said that cancer is the leading cause of disease-related death in this age group and that the increasing number of cases is concerning. 

“Adolescents and young adults are a distinct cancer population,” Zaorsky said. “But they are often grouped together with pediatric or adult patients in research studies. It is important to study how this group is distinct so that care guidelines can be developed to address the increase in cases.”

The researchers analyzed data — including sex, age at diagnosis, and type of cancer — from nearly half a million cancer patients in the United States between 15 and 39 years old across more than four decades. The data was collected by the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program.

During the time period studied, the researchers found the most common types in males were testicular, melanoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The most common types in females were breast, thyroid, cervical and uterine cancers.

Zaorsky, a Penn State Cancer Institute researcher, said that the rates of kidney, thyroid, and gastrointestinal cancers are increasing in this age group.

“Other studies have shown these types are increasing among this age group,” said Zaorsky. “Our data reinforces the fact that clinicians should be on the lookout for these cancers in their adolescent and young adult patients.”

According to Zaorsky, further research is needed to determine why kidney, thyroid, gastrointestinal and other types of cancer are on the rise in adolescents and young adults. He noted that environmental, dietary and screening changes during the time period studied may have contributed to the increased incidences.