Being young is synonymous with feeling invincible.
But, with 89,000 young adults being diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States, this sentiment is tragically far from the truth.
Though battling the disease is a challenging journey for people of any age, young adults with cancer experience unique challenges in various areas including side effects, their ability to cope with the diagnosis, and their ability to receive treatment.
So, what are these unique challenges and how can young adults with cancer navigate them?
Common Cancers in Young Adults
To understand the challenges young adults with cancer may face, it is important to first understand which types of cancers are most common amongst this demographic. Medical professionals refer to ‘young adults’ as anyone from age 15 through to 39. This is a significant range including multiple stages of human development. As such, there are different subgroups of young adults with varying risk factors.
Amongst 15- to 24-year-old young adults, lymphomas and thyroid cancer are the most common cancers. For those aged 25- to 39-year-old, breast cancer and thyroid cancer are the most common.
Generally speaking, the most common cancers in young adults are as follows:
- Brain and other Central Nervous System Tumors
- Soft Tissue Sarcoma
- Testicular, and
Challenges in receiving treatment
The challenges for treatment start at being diagnosed. Cancer in young adults is less common than in mature adults, meaning the medical team may not immediately consider cancer as a cause for the symptoms. Cancer-related symptoms often get mistaken for symptoms for a different condition, delaying the time it takes to receive a diagnosis and commence treatment.
Similarly, there are few opportunities for young adults to identify cancer at an early stage. Most regular cancer screening recommendations, such as breast cancer or colon cancer, apply to adults beyond the young adult age range. This often means young adults with cancer start off on the backfoot when receiving a cancer diagnosis.
Cancers of all types are accompanied by vicious side effects. These side effects range in severity but can ultimately cause extreme discomfort and lost sense of self. Young adults with cancer, however, fear a side effect that is not often much of a concern to the other age groups – infertility. The emotional toll can be particularly challenging for those whose future fertility is threatened by the medications and procedures that were meant to save their lives.
The side effects of cancer are never easy to bear. However, young adults typically have a more difficult time adjusting their life in response to these side effects. Being relatively new to the workforce, and perhaps raising young children, can cause strife when trying to overcome the challenges introduced by cancer treatment.
Relating to the challenges of side effects, young adults with cancer tend to experience a significant decline in emotional wellbeing. Young adults are often establishing their own identity and developing their own social, emotional, and financial independence. A cancer diagnosis can feel as if years of hard work building a future is derailed.
Cancer treatment can also be a costly affair. Unsurprisingly, young adults have the highest uninsured rate. If a young adult does not have adequate health insurance, affording treatment can present a barrier, causing further stress to the patient.
Resources for young adults with cancer
Being a young adult with cancer can be extremely frightening and confusing. Thankfully, there are many expert resources to support young adults navigating this difficult time. Some of the best resources include:
- Faces & Voices of Cancer – an online storybook where real people share their real experiences
- Ulman Foundation – supports young adults with cancer using specialized resources and offers scholarships to support their career pathways
- Cancer and Careers – designed to eliminate fears and uncertainties about the workforce for young people with cancer
The National Foundation for Cancer Research is invested in supporting innovative and collaborative research to the benefit of all cancer types among all people! Please consider a gift of support to NFCR-funded projects today. Your generous donation will help cancer become a concern of the past.
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