Brain cancers are the most common cause of cancer deaths among teens and young adults, but the types of cancers that strike can vary widely as people age, a new report shows.
“For these individuals — who are finishing school, pursuing their careers and starting and raising young families — a brain tumor diagnosis is especially cruel and disruptive,” said Elizabeth Wilson, president and CEO of the American Brain Tumor Association (ABTA).
“This report enables us for the first time to zero in on the types of tumors occurring at key [age] intervals over a 25-year time span, to help guide critical research investments and strategies for living with a brain tumor that reflect the patient’s unique needs,” Wilson said in an association news release.
The ABTA-funded report, which used data from 51 separate cancer registries that represented 99.9 percent of the U.S. population in the 15-to-39 age group, was published recently in the journal Neuro-Oncology.
While brain and central nervous system tumors were the most common type of cancer among people aged 15 to 19, the report also revealed how other types of cancer became more prevalent as people got older. Among those between the ages of 34 and 39, brain and central nervous system tumors were eclipsed by breast and thyroid cancer.
“What’s interesting is the wide variability in the types of brain tumors diagnosed within this age group, which paints a much different picture than what we see in [older] adults or in pediatric patients,” said report senior author Jill Barnholtz-Sloan, an associate professor at Case Western’s Comprehensive Cancer Center in Cleveland.
“For example, the most common tumor types observed in adults are meningiomas and glioblastomas, but there is much more diversity in the common tumor types observed in the adolescent and young adult population,” Barnholtz-Sloan said in the news release.
“You also clearly see a transition from predominantly nonmalignant and low-grade tumors to predominantly high-grade tumors with increasing age,” she added.
“When analyzing data in five-year age increments, researchers discovered that the adolescent and young adult population is not one group but rather several distinct groups that are impacted by very different tumor types as they move into adulthood,” Wilson said.
Nearly 700,000 people in the United States have brain and central nervous system tumors. And more than 10,600 such tumors are diagnosed in teens and young adults each year, with 434 dying of their disease annually, according to the ABTA.
“There are clearly unique characteristics of the 15-39 age group that we need to more comprehensively understand, and the information in the ABTA report starts that important dialogue,” Barnholtz-Sloan said.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about brain and spinal tumors.