Teenagers Get Cancer Too

Adolescent cancer patients need more attention

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) When you think of cancer, the image of a teenager probably doesn't come to mind. Yet the disease does indeed hit adolescents, though this group is largely ignored.

Teenagers don't fit the typical cancer care model that's designed for either pediatric or adult patients.

According to the National Cancer institute and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, adolescents - youngsters between the ages of 15 and 19 - have “fallen through the cracks when it comes to treatment, clinical research, resources and support services.”

That's why legislation was signed in 2011, designating the third week of January as "Teen Cancer Awareness Week" in New Jersey.

"Teens need regular, preventative check-ups."

The Cancer Institute of New Jersey says that teens face unique challenges, including: lack of access to cancer care, ignorance among family doctors about adolescent cancer symptoms, and problems with insurance.

dailyRx asked Richard Drachtman, M.D, interim division chief of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey about adolescent cancers. He said the most common forms are "lymphoma, in particular Hodgkin's Disease and germ cell tumors (tumors of the ovarian or testicular tissue), " he said.

"Other cancers like bone cancer are more common in teens than older patients, but very rare regardless.

"The good news is that most of these patients can be cured with current therapy," said Dr. Drachtman, who is also a professor of pediatrics at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Symptoms teens shouldn't ignore

What about symptoms that teens should not dismiss? "Teenagers should bring to a doctor's attention pain that doesn't have an obvious cause, such as trauma. For example, lower back pain or extremity pain that prevents them from activities they enjoy," Dr. Drachtman said. "Older people are allowed to have back pain, not teenagers," he adds.

Other symptoms not to be ignored are "unusual lumps or bumps, unexplained fevers, weight loss when they aren't dieting, unusual tiredness above and beyond the tiredness most teenagers have, pallor, unusual bleeding or bruising, and for boys- testicular masses," Dr. Drachtman told dailyRx in an email.

It's important, Dr. Drachtman says, that teenagers have regular preventative check-ups.

Adolescent cancer research needed

There's a need for research specifically focused on adolescent cancer. “This is a population whose tumor biology may closely resemble that of an adult patient, but many times adolescent patients are not eligible to participate in what is considered an ‘adult’ clinical trial simply because of their age,” said Dr. Drachtman,

“What is needed is improved recognition of adolescent cancers and targeted clinical trials, as well as better clinical trial access, for these patients,” he concluded.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 18, 2012
Last Updated:
January 18, 2012