Who are Young Cancer Survivors?

Who are Young Cancer Survivors?
Facts and Insights About Cancer Survivorship in Young People

Globally, more than 1.2 million adolescents and young adults (AYAs) between the ages of 15 and 39 are diagnosed with cancer annually. The types of cancers diagnosed varies across this group, however, hematologic malignancies, that is blood and lymphoma related cancers, and brain tumors are most common amongst adolescents up to about 19 years old, while in the older group of young adults about 30-39 years, epithelial cancers such as breast and colorectal cancers are the more common, this mimics the cancers obtained later in life. For these groups the 5-year relative survival has been estimated at more than 80% for all AYA patients combined. [1] Cancer survivorship is particularly higher in high-income countries due to more developed healthcare that allow for early diagnosis and improved cancer treatments. [2, 3] In February 2022, Europe had an estimated childhood, adolescent, and young adult cancer survivor population of about 500,000 individuals, predicted to increase by 12,000 each year [3]. 
Definition of Cancer Survival 
Referring to Dr. Pravettoni and colleague’s, they suggested that cancer survival begins at the time of cancer diagnosis and lasts until the end of life [4]. This definition is the most widely accepted and has a positive impact on the psyche of the person who has just received a cancer diagnosis, because the term cancer survivor always points to a healthy future.

Challenges Faced by Young Cancer Survivors 
Young cancer survivors face several challenges following their recovery from cancer. The extent of these challenges varies depending on the type of treatment received and the post-treatment care provided. Some of the challenges include: 
  1. Physical Issues: Increased risk of secondary cancers, cardiovascular disease, endocrine dysfunction, neurocognitive deficits, infertility, sexual dysfunction, and body disfigurement. 
  2. Psychological Issues: Psychological distress, post-traumatic stress, fear of cancer recurrence, depression, and anxiety. 
  3. Social Issues: Feelings of alienation and isolation due to missing out on life experiences such as college, dating, independence, or starting a family. Limited participation in social activities and disruptions in education, work, and relationships are also common. 
Though it may seem that there are many challenges ahead, it is important to remember that there is also help available. Seek help from those near and around you, from your healthcare providers, and from cancer survivor groups. Building a strong social support system can greatly assist young cancer survivors in leading healthy and fulfilling lives [5, 6]. 
Positive Outcomes 
Life after cancer may be challenging, however, there are also some positive outcomes. Despite the negative psychological effects that survivors may experience, many AYAs also report resilience, post-traumatic growth, and a heightened appreciation for life [5]. Positive emotions, beliefs and life changes are common among people experiencing or have experienced adversity. These emotions facilitate attention to useful negative information and aid in helping cancer survivors to find healthy ways of coping. [7] For some young cancer survivors, their "new normal" may include adopting healthier habits, such as nutritious eating, regular exercise, and prioritizing mental well-being. Some may even explore new ventures or pursue endeavors they wouldn't have dared to before their cancer journey. 
Supporting Young Cancer Survivors 
If you are a close family member or friend of a young cancer survivor, it's essential to ask them what they need and how you can support them. Recognize that each person is unique and may have different needs, so finding what works best for their cancer survivorship is crucial. You can find helpful tips on how to be supportive here:  
Understanding the challenges and positive aspects of cancer survivorship in young people is essential for providing appropriate support. By acknowledging the unique experiences and needs of young cancer survivors, we can help create a supportive environment where they can thrive and embrace life after cancer. Please help us find out more about these needs by sharing our survey with Young Cancer Survivors in your environment: 

Author: Luyolo Mazomba-Karlsson, Region Västerbotten

[4]  Marzorati, C., Riva, S. & Pravettoni, G. Who Is a Cancer Survivor? A Systematic Review of Published Definitions. J Canc Educ 32, 228–237 (2017). 

The OACCUs Team is looking forward to your questions and suggestions.