What are the symptoms and treatment options for early onset cancers?

Symptom Database

Early onset cancers, also known as young adult cancers or cancer in young people, refer to the development of cancer in individuals at a relatively young age. While cancer is often associated with older adults, it can also affect adolescents and young adults. Early cancer diagnosis is crucial for effective treatment and improved outcomes. In this article, we will explore the symptoms and treatment options for early onset cancers, providing valuable insights for those affected by this condition.

Symptoms of Early Onset Cancers

Recognizing the symptoms of early onset cancers is essential for timely diagnosis and intervention. While the specific symptoms may vary depending on the type of cancer, there are some common signs to be aware of:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Unusual lumps or swelling
  • Changes in bowel or bladder habits
  • Persistent pain
  • Unexplained bleeding
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Changes in the skin, such as darkening or yellowing

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation. While these symptoms may not always indicate cancer, they should not be ignored, especially in young adults.

Treatment Options for Early Onset Cancers

Early diagnosis of cancer in young adults allows for a wider range of treatment options and better chances of successful outcomes. The treatment approach will depend on various factors, including the type and stage of cancer, as well as the individual’s overall health. Here are some common treatment options:


Surgery is often the primary treatment for early onset cancers. It involves the removal of the cancerous tumor and surrounding tissues. In some cases, lymph nodes may also be removed to determine if the cancer has spread. Advances in surgical techniques have made it possible to perform minimally invasive procedures, resulting in faster recovery times and reduced scarring.


Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells or prevent their growth. It is often used in combination with surgery or radiation therapy. Chemotherapy can be administered orally or intravenously, and the treatment duration and frequency will vary depending on the specific cancer type and stage. While chemotherapy can cause side effects, such as hair loss and nausea, advancements in supportive care have improved the overall experience for patients.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy involves the use of high-energy radiation to target and destroy cancer cells. It is often used after surgery to eliminate any remaining cancer cells or as a primary treatment when surgery is not an option. Radiation therapy is a localized treatment, meaning it only affects the specific area being treated. Advances in radiation technology have allowed for more precise targeting, minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissues.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that specifically targets cancer cells while minimizing damage to healthy cells. It works by interfering with specific molecules involved in the growth and spread of cancer. Targeted therapy can be administered orally or intravenously, and it is often used in combination with other treatments. This approach has shown promising results in certain types of cancers, particularly those with specific genetic mutations.


Immunotherapy harnesses the power of the immune system to fight cancer. It works by stimulating the body’s immune response or by introducing immune system components to target cancer cells. Immunotherapy has revolutionized cancer treatment and has shown remarkable success in some cases, particularly in melanoma and certain types of blood cancers.


Early onset cancers can present unique challenges for young adults. Recognizing the symptoms and seeking prompt medical attention is crucial for early diagnosis and effective treatment. The treatment options for early onset cancers have significantly improved over the years, offering hope and better outcomes for those affected. By staying informed and proactive, individuals can take control of their health and increase their chances of overcoming cancer.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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