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Teenage and young adult cancer risk factors

The key risk factors for cancers in teenagers and young adults are outlined on this page, with links to more detailed information on the relevant types of cancer risk factors pages. Teenage and young adult cancer risk is also strongly linked with age and sex.

Cancers in teenagers and young adults probably do not have lifestyle/environmental causes in the same way most adult cancers do. This is because the duration of, and time since, risk factor exposure is much shorter in teenagers and young adults compared with adults. Gene mutations – perhaps in combination with lifestyle/environmental factors – probably play an important role in development of teenage and young adult cancer. Overall, the evidence on teenage and young adult cancer risk factors is limited, mainly because of the relative rarity and diversity of this group of cancers.

Age and sex

Teenage and young adult cancer risk is strongly linked with age and sex.

section reviewed 25/03/13
section updated 25/03/13

Previous cancer

Early-onset breast, digestive (e.g. bowel and stomach), and genitourinary (e.g. bladder, testicular and ovarian) cancers, glioma (a type of brain tumour), and bone tumours are associated with cancer in childhood.

section reviewed 25/03/13
section updated 25/03/13

Family history and genetic conditions

Li-Fraumeni syndrome

Early-onset breast cancer, adrenocortical carcinoma (a type of kidney tumour), soft tissue sarcoma, bone sarcoma, and brain, other central nervous system (CNS) and intracranial tumours are associated with Li-Fraumeni syndrome

section reviewed 25/03/13
section updated 25/03/13

Down syndrome

Bone sarcoma is associated with Down syndrome.

section reviewed 25/03/13
section updated 25/03/13

Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)

Early-onset bowel cancer is associated with familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP).

section reviewed 25/03/13
section updated 25/03/13

Hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC)

Early-onset bowel cancer is associated with hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC).

section reviewed 25/03/13
section updated 25/03/13

Neurofibromatosis

Brain, other CNS and intracranial tumours and soft tissue sarcoma are associated with neurofibromatosis type 1.

section reviewed 25/03/13
section updated 25/03/13

BRCA1 and BRCA 2

Early-onset breast cancer is associated with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. 

section reviewed 25/03/13
section updated 25/03/13

Infections

Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)

Hodgkin lymphoma is associated with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection.

section reviewed 25/03/13
section updated 25/03/13

Human papillomavirus (HPV)

Cervical, anal, vaginal, vulval, penis and oral cancers are associated with human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. HPV vaccination is available for teenage girls in the UK.

section reviewed 25/03/13
section updated 25/03/13

Delayed exposure to common childhood infections

Hodgkin lymphoma is associated with delayed exposure to common childhood infections.

section reviewed 25/03/13
section updated 25/03/13

Medical conditions and treatments

Congenital disorders

Brain and other CNS tumours, germ cell tumours (including testicular, ovarian and non-gonadal germ cell tumours), liver and skin cancers are associated with congenital disorders.

section reviewed 02/09/14
section updated 02/09/14

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation

Skin cancer is associated with UV radiation from the sun and sunbeds.

section reviewed 25/03/13
section updated 25/03/13

Height

Osteosarcoma (a type of bone sarcoma) is associated with height (as a marker of rapid bone growth in adolescence).

section reviewed 25/03/13
section updated 25/03/13

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Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team
Updated: 25 March 2013