Imagine being a teenager in high school busy connecting with your friends, dreaming about the future, and developing your self-identify. Or imagine you’re in your early 20s or 30s; maybe you’re in college or you’ve just started your career and family.
Now, imagine being given the news that you have cancer. That can be a traumatic experience for anyone, but it can be particularly difficult for young people.
“Adolescents and young adults, often called AYAs, are patients between the ages of 15-39 who’ve been diagnosed with cancer,” said Dr. Margaret Van Meter, breast medical oncology medical director for Intermountain Healthcare. “A cancer diagnosis presents different challenges for teens and young adults than for younger children or older adults.
Cancer can disrupt big milestones that commonly happen during this age range like completing school, choosing a career path, building personal relationships, raising a family, and working toward emotional, social, and financial independence.
1) In 2020, about 89,500 new adolescents and young adults are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in the United States. This is about eight times the number of cancers diagnosed in children ages 0 to 14 and about one twentieth, or five percent, of the number of cancers diagnosed in adults 40 years and older, based on data from the American Cancer Society.
2) Cancer and cancer treatment can affect young patients’ ability to have children in the future. This can be a major concern for young cancer patients. It’s important for adolescents and young adults to discuss fertility preservation options with their doctor before they start treatment.
3) Lack of money to pay for medical costs during cancer treatment is a very common concern for AYAs. Young people don’t always have a job or health insurance. If they’re working, treatment can affect their ability to keep working and pay for both medical and living expenses. Financial stress may also affect adolescents and young adult patients’ caregivers.
4) Adolescents and young adults often experience a sense of isolation from friends and family who may not fully comprehend what cancer diagnosis.
5) Adolescents and young adult cancer survivors have a high risk of long-term side-effects including infertility, sexual dysfunction, heart problems, and new future cancers. Mental health illnesses are also common among AYA cancer survivors. It’s important to receive both regular physical and psychological care after cancer treatment.
Evidence suggests that some cancers in adolescents and young adults may have unique genetic and biological features. Researchers are working to learn more about the biology of cancers in young adults so that they can identity molecularly targeted therapies that may be effective in these cancers.
Adolescents and young adults should talk to their healthcare teams if they’re experiencing concerns about any of the topics mentioned above. Many resources are available to help.
The Huntsman-Intermountain Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Care Program (HIAYA)] has patient navigators who are ready to help young patients and their caregivers find resources and navigate their cancer care. To connect with an AYA patient navigator, call 801-507-3889 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.