Teenage and young adult (TYA) cancers
In the UK, around 2,300 young people (aged 15 to 24 years) are diagnosed with cancer each year.
Young people’s cancers can be different to cancers in children and adults. So they need specialists who understand these cancers and the needs of this age group. In the UK, young people with cancer aged 13 to 18 years have treatment in specialist treatment centres. These are called TYA principal treatment centres.
Young people aged 19 to 24 years should also have access to age appropriate treatment areas and support. This might be in their local hospital or at a regional principal treatment centre.
The Teenage Cancer Trust (TCT) charity funds specialist areas within hospitals for young people. They are in almost every major NHS cancer treatment hospital across the UK.
What are the most common types of cancer in teenagers and young adults?
There are at least 88 different subtypes of young people’s cancers. These can be put into 12 main groups. The picture below shows these groups and gives you an idea of how common they are.
The most common group is made up of
The next most common group is
We have detailed information about some of these cancer types on our A to Z list.
The Teenage Cancer Trust has information about the most common cancers in teenagers and young adults.
What are the symptoms of cancer in young people?
Symptoms caused by cancer depend on where the cancer is growing. And the same type of cancer may cause different symptoms in different people. Cancer symptoms can be similar to many other conditions which are often more likely in this age group.
Having the symptoms below doesn’t mean you have cancer. But it's important to see your GP to get them checked out.
Some of the most common symptoms are:
- pain that doesn’t go away
- feeling tired all the time for no reason
- an unexplained lump, firmness or swelling anywhere in the body
- headaches that don’t go away
- changes to an area of skin or mole
- unexplained weight loss
Other possible symptoms include:
- frequent or unexplained bruising or a rash of small red or purple spots that can't be explained
- unusual paleness
- sweating a lot at night
- frequent infections or flu-like symptoms
- being sick (vomiting) for no obvious reason
- unexplained high temperature (fever)
- feeling short of breath and a persistent cough
- changes in the appearance of the eye or unusual eye reflections in photos
- unexplained seizures (fits) or changes in your behaviour and mood
Seeing your GP
It can be hard for GPs to tell who may have cancer and who might have a more minor condition. For some symptoms, your doctor may ask you to wait to see if your symptoms get better or respond to treatment, such as antibiotics.
There are guidelines for GPs to help them decide who needs a referral.
It may help to write down:
- what your symptoms are
- when they happen
- if anything makes the symptoms better or worse
There might be a common theme which will help your GP. Tell your GP if you are worried about cancer.
Tell someone what’s going on
You might want to tell a person you trust about your symptoms, such as a parent or friend. Ask them if they’ll go with you to see your GP if you are worried. They can support you and help explain what has been going on.
Don’t be embarrassed
Be open about the symptoms you have and what you are worried about. There is no need to feel embarrassed. Your doctor is very used to dealing with all sorts of symptoms and will want to help find the cause.
It’s likely the doctor will want to examine you. So if you would prefer to see a male or female doctor, make sure you mention this to the receptionist when booking your appointment.
After you have seen the GP
Depending on your symptoms your doctor might refer you to see a specialist who can help make a diagnosis. The specialist might arrange for you to have tests such as blood tests, scans and biopsies. Or your GP might send you for some tests or scans to help investigate your symptoms.
Your doctor might not think you need tests or to see a specialist. They may give you medicine to help. Or another type of treatment, such as exercises to do. Ask when you should expect to see your symptoms get better.
If you are diagnosed with cancer
If you are diagnosed with cancer, your doctor will refer you to a specialist for your cancer type. This is usually at a teenage and young adult principal treatment centre. Some young people may have some or all of their cancer treatment in a hospital that has links to the principal treatment centre.
Treatments for cancer
Your treatment depends on several things including the type of cancer you have and which parts of the body are affected. There are different types of treatment. Some of the treatments for cancer include:
radiotherapy immunotherapy targeted cancer drugs stem cell transplant
Your doctor might ask if you would like to take part in a
You may only need one treatment for your cancer type. Or you might need a combination of several treatments. Your healthcare team will talk to you in detail about the treatment you need and its side effects.
Understanding your treatment and the side effects can help you cope.
Research into teenage and young adult cancers
Some young people may have treatment as part of a clinical trial. Although overall survival is higher for teenagers and young adults with cancer today than in the past, there are still improvements to be made. Some cancers continue to have low survival. And many young people who do survive their cancer have long term side effects.
At Cancer Research UK we are supporting research into cancers affecting young people. We are doing this by tackling the challenges affecting young people joining clinical trials.
Researchers are looking at:
- understanding more about different cancers
- improving survival through developing new treatments or using a different combination of current treatments
- improving long term outcomes
- lessening treatment side effects and improving quality of life
We have a database of clinical trials where you can search for trials taking place in the UK. It’s best to first talk with your doctor or specialist nurse if you are interested in joining a clinical trial. They know your situation, so will know if there is anything suitable for you.
Coping with cancer as a young person
Being diagnosed with cancer comes as a shock no matter what your age. But particularly so when you are young. Most people feel a range of emotions including:
Things can feel uncertain and overwhelming at times. There is such a lot to take in.
As a young person, you may feel like life is just beginning as you start to become more independent. You might be at school, college, university or just started working. You might be a parent or carer. As a teenager, you might be going through puberty and just working out who you are and what you want to be. Or as a young adult, you might be moving away from home, going travelling, starting a new career or getting married. Then you’re suddenly diagnosed with cancer, and it can feel that everything is on hold.
There is no right or wrong way to cope with getting cancer. You have to do what is right for you. And with time, you gradually manage to cope with this new normal.
In TYA treatment centres the health professionals are very experienced so understand much of what you are going through. There are lots of people to talk to so don’t feel alone. Some of these people include:
- your specialist nurse
- youth support workers
- your doctor
- social workers
- other professionals you may be in contact with such as a physiotherapist or hospital teacher
If you are struggling, your healthcare team can also refer you to a psychotherapist for counselling.
Talking to friends and other members of your family can also help you deal with your feelings.
There may be other questions or worries you have about cancer and its treatment and how it might affect you. This may include concerns about:
- education or work
- money issues
- treatment side effects, including whether treatment could affect your fertility
We have information about this in our Coping with cancer section and Children’s cancer section.
Organisations that can help
Cancer Research UK information and support
Cancer Research UK is the largest cancer research organisation in the world outside the USA. We fund research on all aspects of cancer from its causes to prevention and treatment.
We are committed to producing high quality information for people affected by cancer. As well as looking at the information on this website you can call our nurse freephone helpline on 0808 800 4040. They are available from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Or you can send them a question online.
Cancer Chat is our online forum where you can share experiences.
Teenage Cancer Trust
Teenage Cancer Trust is a national charity providing specialist units, expert staff, support events, education and information for 13-24 year olds diagnosed with cancer, and their friends and families.
Teenage Cancer Trust also work closely with healthcare professionals and researchers to lead the way on developing cancer care for teenagers and young adults.
Teenage Cancer Trust
93 Newman Street
Phone: 020 7612 0370
Other organisations helping young people with cancer
Teenagers and Young Adults with Cancer (TYAC) is part of the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG). This charity has a specialist network of professionals who treat and care for teenagers and young adults with cancer. You can find information about your type of cancer as well as places to find support. It also answers questions you might have about life after treatment.
Young Lives vs Cancer (previously called CLIC Sargent) is a charity that provides clinical, practical, financial and emotional support for children and young people and their families who are affected by cancer.
Phone: 0300 330 0803
Teens Unite provides support to young people aged between 13 and 24 years of age and their parents and siblings.
JTV Cancer Support is a project for teenagers and young adults who have been affected by cancer. It is funded by the Teenage Cancer Trust.
Through media, it helps young people express their feelings and make some sense of their personal journeys from diagnosis onwards.
Cancer Fund for Children provides support for children, young people and their families affected by cancer.
Trekstock provides support, guidance and connection to young adults who have been diagnosed with cancer. They offer specialist advice to help young people keep active during or beyond treatment, informative events and expert information.
Sarcoma UK supports people with bone or soft tissue sarcomas. They have a website, an email support network and produce a newsletter.
Support line: 0808 801 0401
This organisation provides information, support and counselling for people with primary bone cancer and their families. They promote research into the causes and treatment of primary bone cancer, in particular osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma.
Telephone: 0113 258 5934
This charity provides emotional, financial, practical and physical support for teenagers and young adults with cancer. They also fund research into cancers affecting teenagers.
The Dragonfly Cancer Trust works with specialist cancer treatment centres, hospitals, hospices and families across the UK. They provide support for young people with cancer who are having palliative treatment.
Their focus is on memory making. They do this by providing cash gifts, keepsakes and creative therapy.
Phone: 01912610971 or 07491641668
This organisation aims to find a cure for all brain tumour types. It is doing this by raising awareness and fundraising for research into brain tumour research.
They also provide information on the different types of brain tumours.
The Brain Tumour Charity is the world's largest dedicated brain tumour charity. It funds research, provides support and information services and raises awareness. It aims to reduce the harm brain tumours have on quality of life, and ultimately, to find a cure.
Support line: 0808 800 004
Other cancer support organisations
The Children's Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG) work to coordinate national and international clinical trials. They also provide information about cancer for children and their families.
Phone: 0333 050 7654
Little Princess Trust provides and fully funds wigs especially designed for children. They also provide personal fitting and styling to ensure the wig is as close as possible to their original hair. They also now specialise in afro wigs.
To order a wig: 01432 760 060
For all other enquiries phone: 01432 352 359
Solving Kids' Cancer charity provides information and support to families of children affected by neuroblastoma. They're also involved in funding and initiating research to improve treatment for neuroblastoma.
Phone: 0207 284 0800
Family support team:
Children with Cancer UK is looking to improve survival rates across all types of childhood cancer. And support children and their families to live better with and after treatment.
This charity funds research projects at centres of excellence around the UK, with the aim to improve treatment for children and young people with cancer. It also organises free days out for families affected by childhood cancer and funds practical support to help families.
Phone: 0800 222 9000 (9am-5.30pm, Monday-Friday)
Charities that provide holidays to support young people
Over The Wall are a national charity that supports children and young people facing serious health challenges through residential camps in communities across the UK.
There are also sibling and family camps available.
This charity takes young people aged 8 to 24 years sailing or other outdoor adventures at the end of treatment. Their aim is to build up young people’s confidence, give them independence and a sense of purpose after cancer treatment.
The Youth Cancer Trust provides free holidays to young cancer patients between the ages of 14 to 30 attending any hospital in the UK or the Irish Republic, subject to approval from their doctor. Young people are invited to spend a few days with other guests of a similar age and situation at Tracy Anne House in Bournemouth. They can come in groups up to eight and bring a brother, sister or a friend. The emphasis is on a relaxed, carefree and fun holiday, allowing a few days away from hospitals.
Tracy Ann House
5 Studland Road
Phone: 01202 763591
Charities that help with financial issues
Family Fund is the UK’s largest charity providing grants for low-income families raising disabled or seriously ill children and young people. Family Fund's aim is to improve the quality of life of disabled or seriously ill children and young people, realise their rights, and remove some of the barriers they face.
Phone: 01904 550055
Turn2us is a national charity that gives practical help to people who are struggling financially. The charity helps people to find financial support such as welfare benefits, charitable grants and other support so that they can get their life back on track.
They have information for people in the UK.
The website has:
- a benefits calculator
- a search tool for finding funds that might be able to give you a grant or other types of help
- a tool to look for a local adviser to help you with advice on personal benefits or grants issues
- a helpline
Their own grants include:
- Turn2us Response Fund - help for people who have experienced a life changing event in the past 12 months
- Turn2us Elizabeth Finn Fund- grants for people who have a professional or similar occupational background or have a partner (or deceased partner) who has done so
- Turn2us Edinburgh Trust - grants to people struggling financially and living in the City of Edinburgh
Phone: 0808 802 2000, 9am - 5pm Mondays to Fridays