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Understanding the global burden of adolescent cancer

Memphis, Tennessee, December 8, 2021

A casually dressed  cancer researcher works on his computer

Nickhill Bhakta, MD, Global Pediatric Medicine Department

Adolescents and young adults are often overlooked by decision makers worldwide when crafting cancer policy. St. Jude researchers and more than 700 international colleagues are working to highlight the needs of this age group.

“Due to efforts by St. Jude Global, World Health Organization and many partners, we are seeing a growing global movement to address the unmet needs of children with cancers,” said co-senior author Nickhill Bhakta, MD, Global Pediatric Medicine Department. “But there remains a gap. Adolescents and young adults share epidemiologic similarities to both children and older adults, but also require unique medical and psychosocial attention.”

“Our hope is that these data will help advocates and clinicians recognize that cancer control is a continuum across all age groups,” he said.

The researchers figured out the global burden of cancer in this group. The team looked at results from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors Study 2019. They focused on disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs). DALYs are a measure of disease burden that also allows for healthcare researchers compare the impact of different diseases in a population. These measures are often used by governments and global agencies to set priorities. 

They found that adolescent and young adult cancers from that year will result in 23.5 million DALYs. Cancer was the fourth leading cause of death and 10th leading cause of DALYs in this group. In addition, in 2019, 1.19 million cases of cancer were diagnosed in people 15–39 years old worldwide. Cancer killed 396,000 of them. 

These findings will help guide global cancer control measures in adolescents and young adults. 

This work is part of a broader collaboration between St. Jude Global and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. This initiative addresses health disparities in childhood and adolescent global cancer control through expanded and improved epidemiologic research.

This work was recently published in The Lancet Oncology. 

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