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News Navigator: Do young people's cancers progress more quickly?

The recent death of TV presenter Mao Kobayashi from cancer that started in her breast and spread to other parts of her body has sent shockwaves through the country, especially as she had been sharing her battle with her illness on her blog, and because she was young, with two small children. The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about cancer among young people.

Question: The freelance TV presenter Mao Kobayashi passed away late last month at age 34, less than three years since she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Does cancer progress more quickly among younger people than it does among older people?

Answer: The progression of the same types of cancer is said to be the same regardless of age. However, young people have a tendency to develop the types of cancers that progress quickly, which has led to the widespread belief that cancer progresses faster among young people regardless of type.

Q: What are the types of cancers that young people are more likely to develop than people in other age groups?

A: There's a wide range: leukemia, sarcoma and thyroid cancer are common in children, while cancer of the digestive system, lungs, and breasts are common among young adults. Additionally, rare cancers whose treatment methods have yet to be established are also common among young people.

Q: So young people are generally more susceptible to cancers that are difficult to treat. How many young cancer patients are there nationwide?

A: In the world of cancer treatment, cancer patients between the ages of 15 and 39 are called the AYA (Adolescent and Young Adult) generation. It's estimated that around 20,000 people of this generation are cancer patients in Japan in a given year. Considering that about 1 million people develop cancer every year in Japan, that's a small percentage.

However, because the number of AYA generation cancer patients is relatively small, and doctors across the country have little experience treating them, it's been pointed out that research and support for treating young people's cancers have been slow to develop and remain minimal.

Q: What is the national government's policy toward young cancer patients?

A: People of the AYA generation are applying to and attending schools, and face other important life events such as starting work, getting married, and having children. They therefore require support that differs from that for younger or older cancer patients.

The state's new Basic Plan to Promote Anti-Cancer Measures, which will be finalized this month, incorporates measures for the AYA generation for the first time. The plan will lay down, for the next six years, what type of medical examination framework must be considered, the arrangement of necessary support, and promoting provision of information relating to the possibility of pregnancy. Our wish is for our society to become one in which young people can live with hope, even if they have cancer. (By Etsuko Nagayama, Opinion Group)

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