Finding Cancer in Adolescents

High school track star Jamie thought his biggest challenge would be his next race. He never imagined he’d be fighting for his life. This is his story.

Cancers are often found later in teens than they are in other age groups. There are a number of reasons the diagnosis of cancer might be delayed:

  • Most teens tend to be fairly healthy and might not go to the doctor unless they feel they really need to. This is especially true for young men.
  • These years are often a time of growing independence, when young people begin to establish their own identity and lifestyle. Concerns other than health such as spending time with friends, dating, working, or getting ready for college are often higher priority than health at this time. Many teens might not even have a regular doctor.
  • Even when a young person does go to the doctor with a concern, cancer is not usually high on the list of probable causes because it’s not common in this age group. Doctors might be more likely to think symptoms like pain or feeling tired are due to causes other than cancer.

Still, some cancers in teens can be found early, when treatment is more likely to be successful.


Screening for cancers in teens

Screening is testing for a disease such as cancer in people who don’t have any symptoms. Cancers are not common between ages 15 and 19, so there are no widely recommended screening tests to look for cancer in people in this age group who are not at increased risk.

Possible signs and symptoms of cancer in teens

There are many reasons cancers in teens and young adults might not be recognized right away. Sometimes the early symptoms of cancer can overlap with those from much more common illnesses or injuries. Young people might feel run down, get sick, or have bumps or bruises that could mask the early signs of cancer. But it’s important to be aware of the common signs and symptoms of cancer.

Seeing a doctor

The doctor will ask about medical history and symptoms and will do a physical examination. Depending on the symptoms, special types of exams or tests might be needed. The doctor might order blood tests, imaging tests (like x-rays and CT scans), or other tests to help figure out if your symptoms are caused by cancer or something else.