Cancer is not an easy thing to talk about. As a result, people wind up with plenty of misconceptions about it - that cancer only afflicts older people, or only those with a family history of cancer are at risk.
That's why many people don't realise that cancer is also a huge threat to people as young as 20 years old. Here are some things you may not have considered before:
1. Cancer In Young People Is A Very Real Possibility
In fact, the term for such patients is adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer patients! AYA patients are defined as cancer patients aged between 15 and 39, and nearly 70,000 are diagnosed annually in the United States alone.
Bringing it a little closer to home, the National Cancer Centre Singaproe (NCCS) sees 450 - 550 new AYA cancer cases every year1. Even with specific cancers, the diagnosis rate for young people is growing. For example, before 2010, one in 10 cases of colorectal cancer in Singapore was diagnosed in people below 50 years old. That number has since grown to one in five cases2, as of 2019.
2. AYA Patients Are More Prone to Certain Cancers Than Older Patients
While the most common cancers in Singapore are breast, colorectal, lung and prostate cancer3, there are specific cancers that AYA patients are more prone to, compared to older patients.
For example 15-24 year old AYA patients are more likely to get leukemia, lymphoma, testicular cancer and thyroid cancer. For 25 - 39 year olds, breast cancer and melanoma are more common.
3. Family History Is Not The Best Indicator for AYA Cancer
Contrary to popular belief, just because there's no history of cancer in your family doesn't mean you're guaranteed safety. In fact, a mere 5 - 10% of all cancer cases are inherited4!
A small percentage of AYA cancers are caused by environmental or inherited factors, such as specific genetic mutations. But the reality is, majority of AYA cancers appear without a known cause.
4. AYA Patients Have Very Different Considerations
Getting a life-threatening diagnosis while you're in the prime of your life can be very traumatic and overwhelming. For AYA patients, it comes with unique problems that may not be as present or important for cancer patients in their later years.
Interrupting school commitments or your career progression to fight cancer can be a huge blow to a patient's self-identity and esteem. Add to that a financial burden that feels heavier, if the patient has not started earning income at all or for long. This is made worse by the fact that the younger the patient, the more likely treatment is needed for longer.
An AYA cancer diagnosis also forces the patient to start considering his or her intentions for children in the future; this can be extremely stressful, especially if the patient is still very young. AYA patients then have to explore fertility preservation procedures such as egg or sperm freezing - all of which racks up the financial cost.
5. There Is Little Specialised Support for AYA Patients
While there are established fields of pediatric and geriatric oncology, there is no tailored treatment or support system for AYA oncology. Ironically, the lack of attention and specialised care for this issue results in higher risk of delayed detection of the cancer among this age group; this is simply because people generally don't consider AYA cancer a possibility.
However, tailored support is important and necessary due to the specific issues faced by AYA patients such as fertility concerns and potential side effects of long-term cancer treatment. In the meantime, NCCS has cancer support groups to help here.
Cancer is one of the most difficult experiences imaginable, and can be very hard to talk about or deal with. Get a head start on lowering your risk by leading a healthy lifestyle and going for annual medical checkups.
Ease up the financial weight of it with coverage you can rely on. With CancerCare Plus, get a lump sum payout for both major cancer and early stage diagnosis. Plus, coverage is available for people as young as 20 years old. Find out more here.