Cancer In Teens - Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Teenage Cancer

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Cancer is a potential killer, and it affects people from all age groups, including infants, babies, children, and teens. As a parent, keeping your teen healthy is probably your only priority. As cancer becomes more common in teens, you need to know more about the condition, and possibly learn how to spot the symptoms and early warning signs of cancer in teens.

The term cancer does sound scary, but timely medical care and intervention can help treat it and make recuperation easier. Read our post below to learn more about teenage cancer, treatment options, and so on.

Types Of Teenage Cancer And Their Symptoms:

Cancer affects about 1 in 285 children before they turn 20. Cancer is also among the top five causes that lead to death in teens (1) (2).

While most forms of cancers are quite rare in teens, there are some that are more common in teens instead. Almost all the cancers that affect teens have a very common thing. In all such cases, the cells in the bodies of the teens grow in a way that gets out of control. Here are the most common types of cancer in teens that affect the age group of 15 to 19: (3)

1. Testicular Cancer:

As the name suggests, testicular cancer mostly affects teen boys and even though it mainly occurs in boys around the age of 20, it can often occur in the teen years too.

  • One of the first symptoms of testicular cancer is a lump that may appear on the testicle.
  • The other sign is that the testicular becomes large or looks swollen.
  • Sometimes, a tumor in the testicles can also be accompanied with pain but in most cases, there will be no pain.
  • In most cases, timely intervention and medical care and support can completely cure testicular cancer.

    [ Read: Testicular Pain In Teens ]

2. Ovarian Cancer:

As the name suggests yet again, ovarian cancer is mostly common in teenage girls.

  • While this type of cancer is most common in older women, there are some types of ovarian cancers, also known as germ cell tumors that are seen in teen girls.
  • In the earliest stages of ovarian cancer, there may not be any specific symptoms or signs of cancer in teens that could point towards the same. However, in some cases, the teen may experience certain symptoms that she may not always associate with ovarian cancer.
  • If your teen does have ovarian cancer, she will start feeling full very soon even though she may not eat a lot of food, she may also feel bloated and have some pain in the stomach. In some cases, a teen girl who has ovarian cancer can also have problems while urinating or any urinary related symptoms.
  • In case your teen girl does experience these symptoms for a few weeks at a stretch, make sure you schedule an appointment with the doctor for further diagnosis.

3. Leukemia:

Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood and the bone marrow. While leukemia is more common in younger children, it is also seen in teens. In fact, most types of leukemia do occur in children once they reach their teen years.

  • Leukemia occurs in the teen years and grows at a much faster pace as compared to leukemia that occurs at younger age. Some examples of such types of leukemia are acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) and acute myelogenous leukemia (AML).
  • Some of the most common symptoms of leukemia are excessive tiredness and weakness even when your teen has already rested and slept, a pale look to the skin, sudden and unexplained loss in weight, pain in the bones and joints, fever as well as bleeding or bruising.
  • It is always easier to treat leukemia when the patient is young, so it is extremely important to get in touch with the doctor to check for the same the moment you spot any signs or symptoms.

3. Lymphoma:

Lymphoma is a kind of cancer that starts in some of the cells known as lymphocytes that are present in the immune system.

  • Teens living with cancer will mostly affect the lymph tissues, such as the tonsil or the thymus, which is a small organ that is present in front of the heart, as well as the lymph nodes. Lymphoma can also affect other parts of the body, such as other vital organs and even the bone marrow.
  • There are different types of signs and symptoms that are associated with lymphomas depending on which part of the body or which organ the cancer is affecting.
  • Some of the most common symptoms of lymphoma are fever, sweating, sudden and unexplained loss in weight, feeling excessively tired even when your teen has rested and slept a lot, lumps that are actually a result of swelling in the lymph nodes and can be felt under the skin in areas such as the armpit, neck or groin area.
  • There are two types of lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma, also known as Hodgkin disease and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma or NHL. Both the types of lymphoma can occur in teens. Hodgkin lymphoma is more common in teens than the non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but both can occur at any age during the teen years.
  • There are various types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and in case it does occur in the teen years, it can grow very rapidly. While a teen who is suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma will require intensive care treatment, the right treatment at the right time can help to cure the disease.

4. Melanoma:

Melanoma is a type of cancer that occurs on the skin and can also be termed as skin cancer. While it is a type of cancer that is mostly seen in older adults, it can also affect teens.

  • Melanoma is, in fact, one of the most common types of cancers that occurs in the teen years and is more common in teen girls than teen boys. Also, if there is a family history of melanoma, a teen will be at a higher risk of suffering from the same too.
  • One of the most important and prominent signs of melanoma is the appearance of any new spot on the skin. Also, there could also be a sudden change in a spot on the skin that was already there, in which case the spot may grow bigger in size or change its shape or color.
  • If there are many spots on the skin of the teen but only one looks very different from the others, that could also signal a chance of melanoma and should be gotten checked by a doctor.
  • If melanoma is diagnosed in its earliest stages, the timely medical intervention and treatment can help to cure it completely. If however it is not diagnosed and treated on time, melanoma can grow and spread very fast, and the treatment can become harder.

[ Read: Skin Cancer In Teens ]

5. Bone And Soft Tissue Tumor (Sarcomas):

Sarcomas are the types of cancers that often begin in the connective tissues such as the fatty cells, the bones or the muscles. While sarcoma can occur at any age, there are some types of sarcomas that occur mostly during the teen years.

  • There are two main types of sarcoma, one is the bone sarcoma and the other is the soft tissue sarcoma. The soft tissue sarcoma usually first appears in the fat deposits, the muscles, the blood vessels or some or the other tissue in the body.
  • There are two main types of bone cancer that are mostly seen in teens. These are osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma. In both types of sarcomas, there is a lot of pain in the bones that gets worse at night or in case of any type of physical activity or exertion. In some cases, it could also lead to swelling in the affected area around the bone.
  • In most cases, osteosarcoma will first appear in an area where the bone is growing at a fast pace. It is mostly common in areas such as the end of the long bones that are found in the arms or legs.
  • One of the most common places where Ewing sarcoma is found are the bones in the pelvic area, the area in the chest wall that includes the shoulder blades as well as the ribs and even the area that is in the middle of the long bones of the legs.
  • The soft tissue sarcoma can actually appear in any part of the body but is mostly common in the arms and legs.
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma is a type of cancer that first appears in the cells that gradually develop into the skeletal muscles. Such type of cancer is also seen in the teen years.
  • The symptoms of soft tissue sarcoma will depend on where the cancer has started and how much it has spread and to what areas. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of soft tissue sarcoma are lumps that may or may not be painful, problems with bowel movement as well as swelling.

6. Tumor In The Brain Or The Spinal Cord:

There are various types of tumors that appear in the brain or the spinal cord and depend at what age they are affecting the person. In teens, most of the tumors in the brain will first appear in the lower part of the brain, even though they can also occur in the upper part, but that is less common. The most common parts where the tumor may occur in the brain are the cerebellum, which helps to coordinate movements and the brain stem that helps to connect the brain and the spinal cord.

  • Tumors in the spinal cord are less common than tumors in the brain.
  • Some of the most common signs of tumors in the brain are nausea and vomiting, a very pronounced headache, blurry vision or double vision, seizures, dizziness as well as difficulty in walking or holding on to objects.

[ Read: Brain Tumor In Teens ]

7. Thyroid Cancer:

Thyroid cancer is more common in teen girls than in teen boys. It is a type of cancer that affects the thyroid gland, which is a small gland that is located in the front part of the neck.

  • One of the first sign and symptom of thyroid cancer is the appearance of a lump in the front part of the neck. While not all lumps will actually be cancerous, it is important that you do get it checked by a doctor to rule out any possibility of cancer in teenagers.
  • Some of the other signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer are difficulty in swallowing or breathing, pain or some amount of swelling in the neck area as well as a change in the regular voice.
  • If thyroid cancer is diagnosed in time and gets the proper medical intervention and treatment, it can be treated fully.

[ Read: Thyroid Problems In Teens ]

Causes Of Cancer In Teens:

For most of the types of cancer that appear during the teen years, there is no specific cause behind the same. However, there are a few causes that are believed to put teens more at risk of cancer. Here are some causes that could increase a teen’s chances of getting affected with cancer:

1. A Development While Inside The Womb:

There are some rare types of cancerous tumors that can develop in a baby while the baby is still inside the mother’s womb at the time of pregnancy. Two such cancerous tumors are the Wilms’ tumor and the retinoblastomas tumor.

2. Some Form Of Medical Condition That Is Inherited:

Sometimes, if a child has some form of inherited medical condition, such as Down’s syndrome, there will be a higher chance of getting some or the other type of teenage cancers. One of the risks is that of getting leukemia, but that too is a rare occurrence.

3. A Previous Session Of Radiotherapy:

If a child has been treated to radiotherapy in the past to take care of cancer, there is a higher chance that they may get affected with another type of cancer in the future too.

4. A Previous Session Of Chemotherapy:

If a child has been treated to chemotherapy in the past to take care of cancer, there is a higher chance that they may get affected with another type of cancer in the future too.

5. Some Types Of Infections:

There are certain types of infections that are thought of to develop further into some type of cancers in teens. One such infection is the Epstein Barr virus (EBV) which is a very common type of infection in children.

There is still a lot of research that is being done to look for causes that are related to cancer in the teenage years. However, it is certain that cancer is not something that is infectious and does not get passed on from one teen to the other in the same family. Also, if one teen in the family gets cancer, it does not mean that another child in the same family will get affected with cancer too.

[ Read: Breast Cancer In Teens ]

Treating Cancer In Teens:

The type of treatment for cancer in teens will depend on the type of cancer and the stage at which it is at the time of diagnosis. In some cases, only one type of treatment will suffice, while in other, more than one type of treatment may be necessary to treat the same. Here are some of the treatment options that your teen’s doctor may suggest for cancer depending on the type and the extent:

1. Surgery:

  • In most types of cancer that are still in their early stage, the doctor will first recommend a surgery. Depending on the type of cancer and where it is based, the doctor will make an assessment on what type of surgery will work best and how much surgery will be needed.
  • Teens are also able to recover better with surgery as compared to older adults, and will have less problems with anesthesia as compared to younger children.
  • However, it is important to remember that during the teen years, the body is still in its growing and developing stage. As a result, some surgeries may affect a teen more than an adult, so it is best to first check the option with the doctor.

2. Radiation Therapy:

  • Radiation therapy is the procedure in which high energy rays, such as x-rays, are used to fight off the cancer cells. In most cases, a teen will likely have lesser side effects to radiation therapy as compared to an adult.
  • However, do remember that some parts of a teen’s body, such as the breasts, the testicles or the ovary, can be extremely affected with radiation therapy. As a teen’s body is still developing, such organs will still be more sensitive to radiation.
  • In most cases, radiation will cause side effects that may show up soon after therapy or after a long time, so make sure you speak to the doctor about it.

3. Chemotherapy And Targeted Drugs:

  • Chemotherapy is the procedure in which drugs are used to fight off the cancer cells. Some of the drugs have to be taken in the form of pills while some have to be injected into the veins or muscles with the help of a needle.
  • Chemotherapy is mostly used in those cases where the cancer has already started to spread but in some cases, it is also used to treat cancer that is in its early stage. If it is used to treat a cancer detection that is in its early stage, it will most likely be done together with another form of treatment.
  • Chemotherapy does cause side effects but teens will be able to react better to these side effects as compared to older adults. However, the side effects of chemotherapy can often be both short term as well as long term and it is important that you first speak to your teen’s doctor to understand about the same.
  • In some types of cancer, targeted drugs that are relatively new are used instead of going for chemotherapy. Targeted drugs attack the specific part of cancerous cells or the cells that are near the cancerous cells and prevent them from growing further.
  • In some cases, targeted drugs work better as compared to chemotherapy and are seen to be more effective. Also, the side effects that may happen as a result of targeted drug therapy are less severe than the side effects that happen with chemotherapy.

4. Stem Cell Transplant:

  • Stem cell transplant was earlier known as bone marrow transplant. It is a procedure in which very high doses of chemotherapy are given, sometimes in combination with radiation therapy.
  • A stem cell transplant is usually kept as a last resort when no other treatment seems to work.
  • The side effects from stem cell transplant can sometimes be life threatening, so make sure to understand all about it in detail from your teen’s doctor.

Preventing Cancer In Teens:

While not all types of cancers can be prevented, there are some lifestyle changes that your teen can consciously adopt to reduce the risk of getting affected with cancer. Here are a few tips that can help to prevent teen cancer:

  1. Make sure that your teen completes the full series of the human papillomavirus (HPV) which usually comprises of about three doses. Speak to your teen’s doctor about the same.
  1. Encourage your teen to eat fresh and healthy fruits and vegetables instead of eating junk food or prepackaged foods all the time.
  1. Let your teen participate in lots of physical activities.
  1. Tell your teen about the potential dangers of getting exposed to radiation from indoor tanning beds as well as sun bathing.
  1. Ask your teen to avoid dangerous lifestyle and health choices such as smoking or using tobacco based products as well as drinking.
  1. Make sure that your teen gets as little exposure to radiation as possible, including times when your teen may have to take part in some medical imaging procedure.
  1. Educate your teen about the need to avoid exposure to chemicals that may increase the risk of getting cancer (4).

While cancer is a very serious health condition, if diagnosed on time it can be treated and your teen can be made completely healthy. So make sure you look at all signs and symptoms and get your teen to the doctor the moment you notice the signs mentioned earlier.

Do you know of any teen who was affected with cancer? Do share how the diagnosis and treatment was done.

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