AYA cancer is different

Young Adult Cancer Is Different

In Blog by Critical Mass17 Comments

National Young Adult Cancer Awareness Week is an annual, community-driven opportunity to highlight the needs, issues and challenges of young adults diagnosed with cancer between the ages of 15-39 and to spread the word about the amazing work being done by patient advocates and healthcare champions on their behalf. This blog series serves to raise the profile of the issues and make it as easy as possible for supporters to add their voices to the Critical Mass community.

By Stupid Cancer CEO Matthew Zachary 

“This isn’t your father’s Oldsmobile” was a semi-catchy yet veiled attempt to convince premium car buyers in the 1980s that, somehow, Oldsmobile was more relevant to Gordon Gecko and Sonny Crockett than it was to John F. Kennedy and G. Gordon Liddy (look it up, kids).

Well, it’s 2015 and you know what? This is not your father’s cancer. That’s right. Cancer for babies and geriatrics is old and busted. The new hotness is young adult cancer. “What age, you say?,” Well, the National Cancer Institute says 15-39 years old and they’re pretty much the experts.

“Why that age,” you say? That’s a great question and I shall explain. For a litany of reasons I won’t get into right now, getting cancer when you’re just getting life started is very different than when you’re a kid or a mature adult — and that has resulted in a gross imbalance in the survival rates and quality of life for this bookended age group.

“What does that mean?,” you say? Well, it means that overall survival rates for young adults have barely budged since Nixon denied he knew anything about that hotel break-in. That sucks and it’s certainly not OK.

“How is young adult cancer different?” Well, something as simple as sperm and eggs matter a little more to people in their fertile years than the pre-pubescent and retired folks. (Well, maybe not Tony Randall but there are always exceptions). Also, perhaps, rearing young children (or making them the old fashioned way) is more often an issue of the young adult market segment than other age groups.

We’re not claiming to be any better or worse than cancer in pediatrics and geriatrics — we’re just different and we matter, too. Combined, pediatric and young adult cancer only make up about 80,000 of the 1.6 million new cancer diagnosis each year. So, when the entire system is stacked to benefit the top 94% of cancer patients, there’s a lot of work to do for building equity around the science, both clinical and psychosocial, as well as the many age-appropriate civil liberties that come into play, specifically unique to adolescent and young adults.

Cancer is no longer a disease of the aged. Incidence in young adults is rising disproportionately when compared to the fact that increased incidence in the older groups is overwhelmingly attributable to screenings and other preventative measures, which, are either irrelevant, unavailable or wholly inapplicable to us.

Fortunately, Hollywood has caught on to this “trend” of youth and young adult cancer and, for better (Chasing Life, 50/50, The Fault In Our Stars) or worse (Red Band Society, My Sister’s Keeper, Funny People, A Walk To Remember), public perception is changing. And it is changing not just in terms of the general desensitization of cancer as the boogey man but, in showcasing younger protagonists, the very idea of cancer happening NOT to a kid or a grandparent, is giving us permission to at least acknowledge it’s possible to affect the teens, college students and “just-getting-their-lives-started” millennial and Gen-X demographics.

And lest we not forget the power of social media, which, by all accounts, is singlehandedly responsible (anthropologically speaking) for catalyzing the voice of the young adult cancer movement. And when I say movement, I mean tangible social change for the disempowered many.

Stupid Cancer, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, is the largest charity that comprehensively addresses young adult cancer through advocacy, research, support, outreach, awareness, mobile health and social media. Our innovative, award-winning and evidence-based programs and services serve as a global bullhorn to propel the young adult cancer movement forward.


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