Cancer is the leading disease killer among young adults ages 20-39. Despite increases to the overall cancer survival rate, there has been no significant improvement to the survival rate among young adults. In fact, the survival gap is widening between young adults and other demographics.
Several factors are said to contribute to the lack of progress for young adult cancers.
Delayed Diagnosis is a key factor and is attributed to less clinical suspicions on the part of medical professionals, a feeling of invincibility among young adults, and unreliable access to early screenings and medical care.
Lack of Adequate Health Insurance leaves many young adults unwilling to see a doctor at the first signs of trouble. Many young adults are uninsured or underinsured, resulting in making more conservative treatment decisions and a less likely tendency to follow up as often as recommended once treatment is complete.
Clinical Trial Participation leads to medical advances and a better understanding of the patients being studied. It also allows participants access to newer treatments, not yet on the market. However, the young adult population has the statistically lowest participation rate in clinical trials. Low trial participation can be attributed to a lack of awareness of that option on behalf of the patient, as well as logistical challenges to enrollment (travel expenses, time away from family and work, etc).
Biological Differences mean cancer in young adults often presents itself in unique ways when compared to other age groups. It is believed that the distinct biology of this age group leads to unique and more rare tumor subtypes. Hormones at this age are also suspected of playing a strong role in tumor development, as well as increased exposure to environmental risk factors because of a more active lifestyle.
Treatment for this age group is a confusing topic. There is no clear consensus on whether young adults should be treated following pediatric or adult protocols. There is a lack of professional mentors dedicated to this age group, which is one of the greatest contributing factors to young adults often falling through the cracks of a well-intentioned system. There is no established protocol designed specifically for the young adult age group, so a great deal of mystery still surrounds the topic of their treatment, including issues such a toxicity tolerance.