Types of cancer

Cancer develops when cells in a part of the body start to grow in an abnormal way. Cancer cell growth is different from normal cell growth and the cells can also invade (grow into) other tissues.

A group of cells can form a tumour anywhere in the body. Benign tumours do not spread, whereas malignant tumours can spread to other parts of the body. Cancer cells can affect how the organs work in the body.

Teenagers and younger adults can develop cancers commonly seen in children, as well as those more common for adults, such as melanoma, testicular cancer, and ovarian cancer.

Listed below are some of the main types of cancer that teenagers and young people are diagnosed with:


The two most common bone cancers to affect teenagers are Osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma.

Osteosarcomas are most likely to affect bones in the leg, especially around the knee joint, but they can affect any bone.

Ewing sarcoma can affect any bone, but it’s most common in the pelvis or in leg bones. Ewing sarcoma can sometimes start outside the bone in the soft tissue. This is called soft tissue Ewing sarcoma, and is treated in the same way.

Sarcoma is the name for a cancer that starts in any connective tissue, such as muscle, fat or cartilage.

More information about bone cancer


The symptoms of a brain tumour depend on the size of the tumour and where it is. The tumour can cause three different types of symptoms:

• It can cause fits

• It can affect the messages sent by that part of the brain to other parts of the body

• It can also cause ‘raised intracranial pressure’. 

If you have any of these symptoms or if you are worried, it’s important to see your GP straight away.

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There are different types of breast cancer. Some of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • a lump in the breast
  • a change in the size or shape of the breast
  • dimpling of the skin or thickening in the breast tissue
  • a nipple that’s turned in (inverted)
  • a rash (like eczema) on the nipple
  • discharge from the nipple
  • swelling or a lump in the armpit
  • pain or discomfort in the breast that doesn’t go away

A lump in the breast is the most common symptom of breast cancer. Most breast lumps are not cancer, they are usually fluid-filled lumps (cysts) or a fibroadenoma, made up of fibrous and glandular tissue. But it is important to get anything that is unusual for you checked by your GP. The earlier breast cancer is treated, the more successful treatment is likely to be.

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Very early-stage cervical cancer may have no symptoms, so it is important to go for your regular cervical screening, so that any early cell changes can be picked up.

Common symptoms of cervical cancer can include:

  • vaginal bleeding between periods
  • vaginal bleeding after sex

Other symptoms include:

  • a smelly vaginal discharge
  • discomfort during sex
  • pain in the pelvic area

There are many other conditions that can cause these symptoms, but it’s important to see your GP or practice nurse to get them checked out.

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Colorectal cancer is a cancer that starts in the colon or the rectum. These cancers can also be named colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where they start. The symptoms of colon cancer may include:

  • blood in or on your poo (stool)
  • bleeding from the back passage (rectum) – the blood may be bright red or dark
  • a change in your normal bowel habit that happens for no obvious reason and lasts longer than three weeks – for example, diarrhoea or constipation
  • unexplained weight loss
  • pain in your tummy (abdomen) or back passage
  • feeling that you haven’t emptied your bowel properly after you poo
  • unexplained tiredness, dizziness or breathlessness
  • a lower than normal level of red blood cells (anaemia)

Sometimes the cancer can cause a blockage (obstruction) in the bowel. You may feel constipated and bloated, be sick (vomit), and have tummy pain. These symptoms can be caused by conditions other than colon cancer, but you should always have them checked by your doctor.

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hodgkin's lymphoma

Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is one of the body’s natural defences against infection. In lymphomas white blood cells called lymphocytes become abnormal and grow out of control. These lymphocytes can build up in one part of the body and form a lump (tumour).

One of the most common symptoms is having a painless lump. The lump is caused by swollen lymph nodes. There may be one or more lumps and these may be in your neck, armpit or groin. Lumps can also be inside the body. A common place would be inside the chest and this can cause a cough or breathlessness.

Some people feel tired and lethargic with lymphoma. Itching of the skin is also quite common. Some people with Hodgkin lymphoma have other symptoms such as high temperatures, very heavy sweats (especially at night) and unexplained weight loss. 

Most of the symptoms that people get with lymphoma may also be caused by other illnesses. For example swollen lymph nodes, high temperatures and sweats may be caused by an infection. But if you have any of these symptoms or are worried that you may have Hodgkin lymphoma, go to your GP.

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Many of the symptoms of leukaemia are caused by having fewer than normal healthy blood cells in the body.

Symptoms can include:

•looking paler than usual and feeling tired - because of too few red blood cells (anaemia)

•bruises - you may bruise more easily and it could take longer for bleeding to stop, if you have less blood clotting cells (platelets) than normal

•infections - because there are too few mature white blood cells to fight infection

•aches and pains in your bones

•swollen glands (lymph nodes) in your neck, under your arm or in your groin

•feeling unwell and run down

•fever and sweats - you may have a high temperature without any obvious cause, such as an infection

•headaches and blurred vision – because of too many white blood cells

The 2 main types of leukaemia are: acute lymphoblastic and acute myeloid leukaemia

There can be other reasons you may have these symptoms. But if you are worried you should see your family doctor (GP).

malignant melanoma

Melanoma can start with a change in a mole or freckle you already have. Or you might notice a new, strange-looking mole or a dark area of skin that wasn’t there before. It can be difficult to tell the difference between a melanoma and a normal mole. You can use the following ABCDE checklist to help you:

•Asymmetry - Ordinary moles usually have an even shape all the way round. Melanomas are likely to have an irregular or uneven shape.

•Border - Moles usually have a smooth-looking edge. Melanomas are more likely to have jagged edges.

•Colour - Moles are usually one shade of brown. Melanomas can have different shades of brown mixed with black, red, pink, white or even a blueish tint.

•Diameter - Moles are normally no bigger than the blunt end of a pencil (about 6mm across from one side to the other). Melanomas tend to grow bigger than this.

•Evolving - Changes to a mole could be a sign of melanoma, so look for changes to its size, shape or colour.

More information

non-hodgkin lymphoma

It’s important to remember that treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) has a very good success rate and many people are cured. NHL is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is one of the body’s natural defences against infection. Normally cells in our body grow in a controlled way but sometimes cells keep dividing and grow out of control. This is how cancer develops. In lymphomas cells called lymphocytes become abnormal and grow out of control. These lymphocytes can build up in one part of the body and form a lump (tumour).

There are two main types of lymphoma:

•Hodgkin lymphoma

•non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Although these cancers are both lymphomas, they are different and need different treatments. Your doctors will do tests to find out which type you have.

One of the most common symptoms is having a lump, which is caused by swollen lymph nodes. This can cause different symptoms, depending on where the swollen lymph nodes are:

•Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit or groin can cause a lump you can feel or see.

•Swollen lymph nodes in the chest may cause a cough, breathlessness, difficulty swallowing, or a puffy face and neck.

•Swollen lymph nodes in the tummy area (abdomen) may make you feel full quickly when you eat and put you off your food. They may also give you tummy pain.

Most people with non-Hodgkin lymphoma feel tired and unwell. Some also have other symptoms such as high temperatures, heavy sweats (especially at night), tiredness or unexplained weight loss.

Most swollen lymph nodes are caused by an infection not lymphoma. But if you have any of these symptoms or are worried that you may have NHL, go to see your GP.

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Ovarian cancer, or cancer of the ovaries, is one of the most common types of cancer in women. The symptoms of ovarian cancer can be very similar to symptoms of other more common conditions. The main symptoms include:

a long-lasting bloated feeling in your tummy (having a swollen tummy)

feeling full quickly and/or loss of appetite

pain or discomfort in the lower tummy area and/or back

needing to pass urine more often or more urgently (feeling like you can’t hold on)

All of these symptoms can be caused by other conditions but it’s very important to get them checked by your GP.

Other possible symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:

changes in bowel habits (diarrhoea or constipation)

pain during sex

weight gain or weight loss

unexplained or extreme tiredness

More information


There are several different types of soft tissue sarcoma. The most common types that can affect teenagers and young adults are: rhabdomyosarcomas, synovial sarcomas, soft tissue Ewing’s sarcoma and fibrosarcomas.

The symptoms of a sarcoma will depend on where it is:

•If it’s in an arm or leg, symptoms include a lump or swelling in the limb. This is usually painless, but not always.

•If it’s in the tummy (abdomen), symptoms include a painful, swollen tummy, and problems going to the toilet to poo (called constipation).

•If it’s in your bladder, symptoms include pain in the lower tummy, finding it difficult to wee (pass urine), and having blood in your wee.

•If it’s in the chest, symptoms can include breathlessness, a cough and pain in your chest.

•If it’s in the head or neck, symptoms include a lump, a blockage and discharge from the nose or throat. Occasionally an eye may become swollen and stick out a bit.

You may also have other symptoms, such as tiredness, loss of appetite or weight loss. Remember – most people with the symptoms listed here won’t have a sarcoma. But if you have any of these symptoms, or are worried that you may have a sarcoma, the first thing to do is to see your GP.

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Testicular cancer is cancer that develops in the testicles. Teratomas usually affect young men of 15 to 35 years old. Seminomas are a different type of cancer affecting the testes but this type usually affects men of 25 to 55 years old.

These are the main symptoms of teratomas that can affect teenagers and young adults:

•A painless lump or a swelling in a testicle. Occasionally the swelling suddenly increases and becomes painful.

•Pain or a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum (the sac that holds the testicles).

•A change in the shape or feeling of the testicle. There might also be other symptoms if the cancer has spread:

•Pain in your back, groin or lower tummy.

•Shortness of breath.

•Tender or swollen nipples. This is not common but can be caused by hormones produced by the cancer.

Most lumps and swellings, especially in the epididymis (the tube at the top behind the testicle), are not cancer. But it’s important to get any lump or swelling or any of the other symptoms here checked by your GP straight away.

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Papillary and follicular thyroid cancers are the most common types of thyroid cancer in young adults. The first sign of thyroid cancer is usually a painless lump or swelling in the front of the neck that gradually gets bigger. Less common symptoms are:

•a hoarse voice that doesn't get better

•difficulty swallowing or breathing.

If you have any of these symptoms it's important to seea doctor. Remember – these symptoms can happen for lots of reasons other than cancer.

More information

For more information on types of cancer please click on the links below:

Teenage Cancer Trust - Types of Cancer

Macmillan - Cancer Types

National Cancer Intelligence Network - Cancer Type

Young Lives Vs Cancer - Types of cancer