Cancer in Youngsters
Many people, especially teenagers, find speaking to anyone about their bodies totally embarrassing & daunting. It’s important to remember that cancer in young people is rare and it could be that the symptoms are due to an ordinary every day illness. When it comes to cancer, this physical awareness is a good thing. We all should know our bodies , so if we find that something has changed and we can’t explain it, it’s important to get it checked out. Getting answers and support as soon as possible is vital in helping alleviate some of the anxiety caused by not knowing what’s wrong. Almost two thirds of people show at least two of the most common cancer symptoms: pain, lump / swelling, tiredness, headache or drastic weight loss.
We don’t know what causes most cancers, especially the types that young people get. Risk factors are things that can increase the chances of developing some cancers. Very rarely, cancer can be caused by a faulty gene that’s passed on through parents ie. Inherited. It’s important to remember that one can’t “catch” cancer.
It could be that the signs you may be experiencing are due to an ordinary every day illness. In any case, if you have any of these, it’s important to talk to someone and make an appointment to see your doctor. The 5 most common signs of cancer in young people are :
- Lump, bump or swelling
- Extreme weight loss
- Extreme tiredness
- Changes in the size or look of a mole
Most cancers are diagnosed in older people but certain cancers are more likely to affect young people and teenagers which can be cured with treatment. The type of treatment one gets depends on different things, such as the type of cancer, its location and whether it’s spread to another part of the body.
Common cancers in youngsters are :
- Leukaemia: acute & chronic, lymphoblastic & myeloid
- Lymphoma: Hodgkin & non-Hodgkin
- Bone cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Testicular cancer
- Brain tumours
- Soft tissue sarcoma
- Thyroid cancer
It’s common to have treatment to treat the cancer and reduce the risk of the cancer spreading or recurring. The main treatments are:
- Surgery – the removal of the cancerous part
- Chemotherapy – having anti-cancer drugs to destroy the cancer cells
- Radiotherapy – high-energy x-ray treatment
- Targeted therapies – biological therapies or monoclonal antibodies
Cells can sometimes spread from where the cancer started (primary site) and go to other parts of the body. These cells can eventually make another cancer, which is called a secondary cancer or a metastasis. Cells can spread in different ways:
- They can spread directly into tissue close by
- They can travel in the blood
- They can travel through the lymph nodes (sometimes called glands). The lymph nodes are part of the body’s immune system, which protects us from infection and other problems.
Leukaemia is a cancer of the immature white blood cells. It affects the blood, bone marrow, and lymphoid system. In leukaemia, the process for making new white blood cells gets out of control and immature white blood cells called blasts keep being made. The blasts build up in the bone marrow until there isn’t enough room for the bone marrow to make healthy white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. The body needs these cells to help fight infection, carry oxygen from the lungs around our body and to stop bleeding by clotting the blood.
Leukaemia is divided into two main groups – acute and chronic. Acute leukaemia develops very quickly. Chronic leukaemia tends to develop slowly, usually over months or years without causing many symptoms.
These groups are further divided, depending on the type of white blood cell they affect. Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) affects myeloid cells and Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) affects lymphoid cells. Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML) affects myeloid cells and Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL) affects lymphoid cells.
Most of the symptoms of leukaemia are caused by having fewer than normal healthy blood cells in the body.
- Anaemia – look paler than usual and feel tired – because of too few red blood cells.
- Bruises- one may bruise more easily and it could take longer for bleeding to stop, because there are lesser blood clotting cells (platelets) than normal.
- Infections – because there are too few mature white blood cells to fight infection.
- Body ache- aches and pains in your bones.
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, under the arm or groin.
- Feeling unwell and run down.
- Fever and sweats – high body temperature without any obvious cause, such as an infection.
Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is one of the body’s natural defences against infection. Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that occurs when the mature white blood cells that form an important part of the immune system called lymphocytes, divide faster than normal cells or live longer than they are supposed to and become abnormal and grow out of control. Lymphoma may develop in the lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, blood or other organs and presents as a solid tumour of lymphoid cells.
There are two main types of lymphoma:
- Hodgkin lymphoma
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
The most common symptoms of lymphoma are:
- Having a painless lump in the neck, armpit or groin caused by swollen lymph nodes
- High body temperature – fever
- Very heavy sweats (especially at night)
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Lymphoma in lymph nodes in the chest area can sometimes cause cough, difficulty swallowing or breathlessness.
- Lymphoma cells in the bone marrow causes to have fewer healthy blood cells than normal which can cause breathlessness, tiredness, infections, nosebleeds, bruising easily & heavy periods in girls.
Bone Cancer :
The two most common kinds of bone cancer to affect young people are Osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma. The word ‘sarcoma’ means a cancer that starts in connective tissue such as bone, muscle, fat or cartilage.
These are the main symptoms:
- The most common symptom is pain, feel tenderness around the affected area, or an ache that doesn’t go away and feels worse at night.
- A lump or swelling around the bone. Not very obviously visible most times.
- A tumour near a joint causes reduced movement, like an elbow or knee, it can make it harder to move the joint and the affected arm or leg. If it’s in a leg bone, it may cause a limp. If it’s in the spine, it may press on nerves and cause tingling and numbness in the legs or arms.
- A bone may break suddenly, or after only a minor fall or accident.
- Fever – high body temperature
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
Ovarian Cancer :
Germ cell tumours of ovarian cancer start in the egg-producing cells of the ovary in young girls and women between age 10-30. These tumours are often only in one ovary. Germ cells are a normal part of the ovary, but something causes them to change. This makes them grow too quickly and make a tumour.
Signs and symptoms of germ cell tumours in the ovary are:
- Pain or swelling in the abdomen
- A feeling of fullness or bloating in the abdomen
- Need to urinate more often
- Irregular periods
Testicular Cancer :
There are different types of testicular cancer. They start in sperm-producing cells called germ cells. Teratoma is one of the most common affecting men between 15-35 years old, and another type called seminoma usually affects older men. Most lumps and swellings, especially in the epididymis (the tube at the top behind the testicle), aren’t cancer. But it’s important to get any lump or swelling checked . Having one or both testicles that didn’t descend into the scrotum as a baby and needed an operation to correct this and having a male family member who’s had testicular cancer are some things that can increase the chances of getting testicular cancer.
The main symptoms are :
- A painless lump or a swelling in a testicle which occasionally increases and becomes painful.
- Pain or a feeling of heaviness in the sac called scrotum that holds the testicles.
- If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes there could be pain in the back, groin or lower tummy
- Sometime, hormones produced by the cancer can cause tender or swollen nipples
Brain Tumours :
There’s only a fixed amount of space in the skull for the brain. So as a tumour grows, there’s a rise in pressure in or around the brain (raised intracranial pressure) and depending on the size of the tumour, its location and how it affects the messages sent by that part of the brain to other parts of the bod, it causes symptoms such as :
- Headaches – often worse in the morning
- Nausea or vomiting -usually in the morning
- Fits – seizures
- Feeling of irritation or loss interest in day-to-day stuff
- Problems like blurring or double vision in the eyes
- Feeling extremely sleepy
- Brain tumours can also cause problems with balance and walking, or weakness down one side of the body.
- Some tumours could also cause problems with speech or eyesight, or changes in personality.
Soft tissue sarcomas are cancers that develop from cells in the soft, supporting tissues of the body.The ones that tend to affect teenagers are rhabdomyosarcomas, synovial sarcomas & fibrosarcomas. The symptoms will depend on the location of sarcoma:
- In an arm or leg, symptoms are usually painless lump or swelling in the limb.
- In the abdomen, symptoms are a painful, swollen abdomen and constipation.
- In the chest, symptoms are breathlessness and pain in the chest.
- In the head or neck, symptoms include a lump, a blockage and discharge from the nose or throat. Occasionally an eye may become swollen.
- In the bladder, symptoms include pain in the lower abdomen, difficulty in urinating and sometimes passing blood in the urine.
- There may be other symptoms like tiredness, loss of appetite or weight loss.
Thyroid Cancer :
Papilliary and follicular are the most common types of thyroid cancer in young adults.
In most people the first sign of thyroid cancer is a lump or swelling in the neck that gradually gets bigger.
These are the most common symptoms:
- Painless swelling or lump in the neck
- Hoarse voice that doesn’t get better
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing