Most Common Adolescent Cancers and their Symptoms

In the Philippines, 75% of all cancers manifest in patients over 50 years old. We’re not used to hearing it, but some kinds of cancer are actually more likely to be diagnosed in young people—even teenagers. As always, early detection is key, and it’s never too early to start looking for symptoms. But which specific signs should teens and their parents be paying attention to? Doctors from the Section of Oncology of Makati Medical Center (MakatiMed), a top hospital in the Philippines, name some of the most common adolescent cancers and the symptoms to watch out for. 




Leukemia


This common adolescent cancer affects the blood cells. “Leukemia is the most common cancer among children under 15,” says Ma. Ysabel Lesaca-Medina, MD of MakatiMed’s Section of Oncology. “It’s a cancer that has several types, but in young people, the most common forms are acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML).” Some of the most common symptoms include fatigue, bruising easily, breathlessness, and pain in the joints and bones. 



Lymphoma


This cancer begins in the immune system, which is our body’s natural defense mechanism against bacteria and infection. There are two main types, Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and both can manifest in very young patients. “We can usually tell a child has Hodgkin lymphoma when they exhibit swollen lymph nodes, night sweats, weight loss, and fever,” explains Dr. Lesaca-Medina “Those with non-Hodgkin lymphoma usually complain about breathing difficulty and swollen lymph nodes.” 



Brain tumors


There are several sorts of benign and cancerous brain tumors, each with their own set of symptoms and effects. Still, brain cancer is the second most common cancer among young ones after leukemia. Dr. Lesaca-Medina says that patients with brain cancer complain of headaches, especially in the morning. She adds that they also tend to report vomiting, nausea, seizures, and problems in sight, balance, speech, and hearing. “Parents should also look out for unusual mood swings and behavioral changes” says Dr. Lesaca-Medina. “Drowsiness and a shift in their energy levels should also be a cause for concern.” 



Thyroid cancer


This type of cancer develops when malignant cells form in the tissues of the butterfly-shaped thyroid gland in the neck. “Papillary thyroid cancer occurs often in teens. It can spread to the lymph nodes in the neck and the lungs,” explains Dr. Lesaca-Medina. She says that symptoms of papillary thyroid cancer include feeling a lump or swelling in the neck, problems with breathing and swallowing, and hoarseness in the voice. “The silver lining here is that treatment for thyroid cancer has a high success rate, so people shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help as early as possible,” says Dr. Lesaca-Medina. 



Ovarian cancer


Teenage girls can get ovarian cancer, too. The problem is that many of the symptoms, like pain, swelling, or a lump in the abdomen, are hard to tell apart from the common period. The thing to remember is that if you have ovarian cancer, you will experience these symptoms even if you aren’t on your period. “Teenage girls with ovarian cancer will also go through puberty earlier than usual, and have painful menstrual periods,” says Dr. Lesaca-Medina. “They also tend to miss some of their periods.” 



Testicular cancer


Testicular cancer can affect boys as early as puberty. Teens are at higher risk for testicular cancer if they have a father or brother who have been diagnosed with it. “Boys with testicular cancer will go through puberty early, feel a painless lump in the testicles, or show enlarged breasts that can feel tender. An ultrasound, physical exam, or blood test are usually some of the things doctors will do to diagnose this cancer,” says Dr. Lesaca-Medina. 



Melanoma


This skin cancer affects the melanocytes, which are the cells that produce melanin, that mostly affects adolescents aged 15-19 years. Sunlight exposure, unusual moles, and health history of the child can increase the risk of melanoma. Dr. Lesaca-Medina says that the first sign of melanoma is usually a new spot on the skin or even in other pigmented tissues like the eye or intestines, or a change in the appearance of an existing mole. “These moles will change shape or color, have irregular edges or borders, and even excrete fluids.” she adds. It’s therefore important for patients to pay attention to these changes so they can report it to their doctor. 



Bone and soft tissue cancer. Osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma, the most common forms of bone cancer, are highly prevalent in young adults. “Patients with osteosarcoma will feel swelling over their bones, often accompanied by joint pain. They can easily break their bones than normal people,” says Dr. Lesaca-Medina. “On the other hand, people with Ewing sarcoma will feel a painful lump in the arms, legs, chest, back, or pelvis. This lump may feel soft and warm. Patients will also get fever and break their bones for no discernible reason.” 



Don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with a MakatiMed doctor if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms. Remember—cancer isn’t a death sentence. The earlier you detect it, the higher your chances of defeating it. 



For more information, please contact MakatiMed On-Call at +632.88888 999, email mmc@makatimed.net.ph, or visit www.makatimed.net.ph

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