YAC Prime findings reveal impact of cancer and unique issues facing young adults
Calgary, AB – September 24, 2019. Each day, 22 Canadian young adults (ages 15-39) are diagnosed with cancer. Now, Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC) has released early data from the “Young Adults with Cancer in their Prime (YAC Prime)” study, a new report that provides a look at the impact and intensity of issues facing young adults with cancer.
In collaboration with Dr. Sheila Garland, assistant professor of psychology and oncology at Memorial University, YACC, a not-for-profit organization, surveyed 622 diagnosed young adults across Canada to explore the physical, social, financial, and emotional challenges they face as compared to their peers without cancer. The findings identify unique issues, since cancer in young adulthood can disrupt an important period of development and identity formation, which tends to have a cascading impact on all areas of life. Yet, few programs are geared to specifically support them through diagnosis and recovery.
“Many people see this age group as ‘too young to have cancer’ resulting in a massive lack of resources from support to research,” said Geoff Eaton, founder of YACC and himself a young adult cancer survivor. “The paltry offering of support programs leads to intense isolation for patients and their families. Health professionals are unaware and untrained to deal with the unique issues young adults face and despite our best efforts, limited funding means only one of the 22 young adults diagnosed today will find their way to YACC.”
The YAC Prime study reveals one of the main issues facing young adults with cancer is the significant financial gap between them and their peers without cancer, matched for age, gender, and education. For example, cancer patients are often unable to maintain full-time jobs during treatment and recovery. Half (49 per cent) of patients missed between one and four plus years of work, a major contributor to their financial hardships. Given that not all treatment costs are covered by healthcare in Canada, an extended leave from work makes paying $100+ per month in cancer-related expenses even more difficult for 63 per cent of these young adults.
In addition, there is a considerable divide between the two groups and the value of their assets. A whopping 43 per cent over the age of 35 reported having less than $100,000 in assets, compared to just 17 per cent of their non-cancer peers. Similar trends were found among both groups younger than 35.
Encouragingly, young adults with and without cancer have comparable income levels, however lower income is associated with psychological distress, which is significantly higher in young adults with cancer than their non-cancer peers. Perhaps not surprisingly, an income of more than $60,000 was associated with reduced distress for young adults with cancer.
Quality of life
Young adult cancer survivors end up facing a variety of physical, social, and mental issues, and report significantly worse quality of life compared to the Canadian population. The majority (84 per cent) experience significant levels of fear of cancer recurrence, 68 per cent have significant stress about their body image, and 47 per cent experience significant symptoms of depression or anxiety.
“Having a hysterectomy at 35 due to advanced stage ovarian cancer left me drowning in grief and anger and not many people could relate,” said Kelly Anne Branco, a YACC member in Toronto. “Although I went to many different support groups, the women were always at least 25 years older than me and had already experienced motherhood and long, loving marriages. I felt so alone and lost going through cancer at my age and dealing with the tsunami of emotions and loss. At YACC, I was able to connect with a community of other young adults my own age who understood exactly what I was going through and I how I felt. That support has made all the difference.”
A cancer diagnosis in young adulthood can be isolating, so finding a community of peers facing similar issues is critical. In fact, people with the lowest levels of social support reported the most benefit from a community connection. Those individuals who feel connected are also almost four times more likely to be able to move forward from their cancer diagnosis in meaningful ways, a concept called post-traumatic growth, compared to those who are not connected.
“The YAC Prime study is leading the way by bringing together researchers, community stakeholders, and people with lived experience to identify and address issues impacting the overall quality of life of young adults with cancer,” said Dr. Sheila Garland, clinical psychologist at Memorial University of Newfoundland and lead researcher of the study. “There is a strong need for support for this demographic, not only while they’re fighting cancer, but also once they’re in remission and beyond.”
The findings of the study will be presented at this year’s annual International Psycho-oncology Society (IPOS) Symposium from September 23-26, 2019 in Banff, Alberta.
Young Adult Cancer Canada
Young Adult Cancer Canada is the leading Canadian cancer charity focused on delivering support programs for young adults (15 – 39 years) dealing with cancer. Founder and executive director Geoff Eaton launched the organization in 2000 in St. John’s, NL after his first cancer challenge. Young Adult Cancer Canada has over 3,200 members in its community and offers web-based, local and four-day programs for young adults all across Canada.
Every cancer, every stage, YACC’s got their backs.