May 29, 2014 | by Hiu Chung So
Cancer can affect a person at any age, with the disease often considered one of aging. But increased age isn't always linked to an increased risk of death. City of Hope researchers have found that, when it comes to breast cancer, younger women are more likely to die than their older counterparts.
That research will be presented on June 2 by Julie Wolfson, M.D., M.S.H.S., assistant professor of City of Hope's Department of Pediatrics and Department of Population Sciences, in an abstract at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting in Chicago.
"Adolescents and young adults are documented to have poorer cancer outcomes, but no one has studied outcome differences for cancers that are typical in young adults, including breast cancer," Wolfson said.
In their research, Wolfson and her colleagues analyzed data on more than 67,000 patients from the Los Angeles County cancer registry from 1998 to 2008, including almost 6,000 from the young adult age group (22 to 39 years old). They then looked at overall survival and mortality rates for the seven cancers most common in young adults (breast, liver, lung, colorectal, gastric, cervical and oral).
After adjusting for demographic and clinical characteristics (such as stage of cancer and race/ethnicity), the researchers found that younger women with breast cancer have worse outcomes than older women with breast cancer. In their analysis, the mortality rate for this group was 10 to 30 percent higher than that of older women (40 to 65 years old). The researchers also found that for lung, liver and gastric cancers, overall survival rates from 1998 to 2008 haven't changed for younger adults but have improved significantly for older adults. Both groups saw an improvement in colorectal cancer survival rates but remained stagnant on cervical and oral cancer survival. Reporting on the findings, Wolfson wrote: “Young adults with breast, lung, hepatobiliary and gastric cancer constitute a vulnerable population vis-a-vis their [older] adults counterparts.” This disparity in outcomes warrants further study, she added.
Meanwhile, young adults should be aware of common cancer symptoms so that the disease can be detected and treated in earlier stages.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that there are 67,500 adolescents and young adults (15 to 39 years old) diagnosed with cancer. Additionally, for this age group, cancer is the leading cause of disease-related deaths and the fourth-leading overall cause after suicide, homicide and accidents.
Learn more about City of Hope's adolescent and young adults cancer program.
The abstract (#6591) is available ahead of the meeting on ASCO's website.