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.

Being in an age appropriate treatment area means you will be around other people of a similar age to you. You will have things to do that are appropriate for your age and peer group. The area you stay in might be decorated differently making it more friendly and welcoming. You will also have access to support that is tailored to young people.

Young person with cancer playing a games console

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.

Infographic of young people's 12 most common types of cancer

The most common group is made up of melanoma skin cancer Open a glossary item and carcinomas Open a glossary item. 30 out of 100 young people with cancer (30%) have these types of cancer. Carcinomas cover several cancer types. Some of the most common include cancer of the cervix Open a glossary item, thyroid Open a glossary item and breast.

The next most common group is lymphomas Open a glossary item. 20 out of 100 young people with cancer have a type of lymphoma.

Germ cell tumours Open a glossary item are the third most common type. 16 out of every 100 young people with cancer (16%) have these types of cancer.

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
If you're worried about the cause of your symptoms, don't delay seeing your GP. Your worry is unlikely to go away if you don't make an appointment.

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.

Go back to your GP if your symptoms don’t improve or they get worse.

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.

You will meet lots of people you are able to rely on for support. It maybe quite overwhelming adjusting to the changes in your life but always remember you have people you can contact.

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:

  • chemotherapy Open a glossary item
  • surgery
  • radiotherapy Open a glossary item
  • immunotherapy Open a glossary item
  • targeted cancer drugs Open a glossary item
  • stem cell transplant Open a glossary item

Your doctor might ask if you would like to take part in a clinical trial Open a glossary item.

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:

  • anger

  • anxiety

  • fear

  • sadness

  • numbness

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

Your healthcare team can also help you find support for your mental health, such as referring you to see 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
The Place
175 High Holborn
London
WC1V 7AA

Phone: 020 7612 0370
Email: hello@teenagecancertrust.org

Other organisations helping young people with cancer

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

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 0004
Email: support@thebraintumourcharity.org 
Contact form 

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.

Cancer Fund for Children provides support for children, young people and their families affected by cancer.

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
Email: info@dragonflycancertrust.org

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.

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

Email: supportline@sarcoma.org.uk 

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.

Email: info@tyac.org.uk 

Teens Unite provides support to young people aged between 13 and 24 years of age and their parents and siblings.

This charity provides emotional, financial, practical and physical support for teenagers and young adults with cancer. They also fund research into cancers affecting teenagers.

Phone: 07771646654
Email: nikkibowdidge@tombowdidgefoundation.org

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.

Contact form

Young Lives vs Cancer is a charity that provides clinical, practical, financial and emotional support for children and young people and their families who are affected by cancer. You can chat to the social care team through their live chat. Or you can email or phone them.

Phone: 0300 303 5220 Monday to Friday 10am to 4pm. 

Email: getsupport@younglivesvscancer.org.uk

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
Email: info@cclg.org.uk

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)

Email: info@childrenwithcancer.org.uk

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
Wig requests by email: wigs@littleprincesses.org.uk
For all other enquiries phone: 01432 352 359
Email: hello@littleprincesses.org.uk

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:
Email: support@solvingkidscancer.org.uk 

Other enquires:
Email: info@solvingkidscancer.org.uk  

Charities that provide holidays to support young people

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.

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.

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
Alum Chine
Bournemouth
BH4 8HZ

Phone: 01202 763591
Email: admin@yct.org.uk

Charities that help with financial issues

Family Fund is the UK’s largest charity providing grants for low-income families raising children or young people that are:

  • disabled
  • seriously ill

Family Fund aims to improve:

  • the quality of life of disabled or seriously ill children and young people
  • realise their rights
  • remove some of the barriers they face

Contact details:

Phone: 01904 550055

Turn2us is a national UK charity that gives practical help to people who are struggling financially. It helps people find financial support such as welfare benefits and charitable grants. 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

Turn2us also has its own national grant programmes, as well as financial help for people in need in Edinburgh. You can find more information on their website.

Helpline: 0808 802 2000, 9am to 5pm Mondays to Fridays

  • Children, teenagers and young adults UK cancer statistics report 2021
    Public Health England (PHE), 2021

  • Scottish referral guidelines for suspected cancer
    NHS Scotland, last updated October 2022

  • Suspected cancer: recognition and referral
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), June 2015. Last updated December 2021

  • Northern Ireland Referral Guidance for Suspected cancer – Red Flag Criteria
    Northern Ireland Cancer Network (NICaN), August 2022

  • The age of adolescence
    S M Sawyer and others
    The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, March 2018. Volume 2, Issue 3, Pages 223 to 228

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. Please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular issue you are interested in if you need additional references for this information.

Last reviewed: 
31 Mar 2023
Next review due: 
31 Mar 2023

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