Spotlight on Young Adults with Cancer by Laura Riley, Staff Attorney

The release of 50/50, a movie about a 27-year old’s battle with spinal cancer and his best friend, has brought attention to the young adult cancer community. 50/50 is based on writer Will Reiser’s own experiences with cancer.

Cancer in young adults is more prevalent than some might imagine. Adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 39 are much more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than children under the age of 15.[1] In fact—about 8 times as likely; in one recent year nearly 68,000 people aged 15 to 39 years were diagnosed with cancer. [2] the most common types of cancer seen in young adults being lymphoma, leukemia, germ cell tumors (including testicular cancer), melanoma, central nervous system tumors, sarcomas, and breast, cervical, liver, thyroid, and colorectal cancers.

Despite this, cancer risk and cancer survivorship challenges have been under-recognized in this group.[3] One barrier to progress with young adult cancers is that there is “low participation in the relatively few clinical trials available to young adults, in part because diagnosing physicians seldom refer these patients to trials. Poor understanding of patient and tumor biology that distinguishes cancers in this population has contributed to minimal advances in treatment.”[4]

It’s a little early to tell, but another barrier to progress on young adult cancers may be partially addressed by one element of recent federal health care reforms. A 2006 study stated that access to cancer care for the young adult community was restricted because of how many 19 to 29 year olds are uninsured.[5] However, as of September 23, 2010, children under 19 can no longer be denied health insurance coverage based on a pre-existing condition. Additionally, children and young adults may remain covered under their parent’s plan until they reach the age of 26 (unless they’re eligible for their own employer-sponsored health insurance through their jobs).

To read more about 50/50, visit:

The Cancer Legal Resource Center will be participating in the LIVESTRONG Young Adult Alliance (YAA) Conference in Austin, TX, on November 11, 2011. For more information on YAA, visit:

For other young adult support and resources, visit:

1. National Cancer Institute, Cancers in Young People, available at:
2. Closing the Gap: Research and Care Imperatives for Adolescents and Young Adults with Cancer: Report of the Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology Progress Review Groups, p.6, available at:
3. Id. at p.7.
4. Id.
5. Id.


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