Being a Young Adult or Teen With Cancer

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 06/2019

Watch the "Moving Forward" video series for young adults, adapted from this content.

Having cancer as a young adult or teenager is very different from having it as a child or later in life. Getting a diagnosis and treatment can be challenging for many reasons. For example:

  • If you get sick as a young adult or teen, you or your doctor might not consider cancer as a cause. Cancer is uncommon in teens and young adults, and your symptoms might seem like symptoms of a different condition.

  • You might not have health insurance. Or you might have difficulty paying for cancer treatment, even with health insurance. Find out more about managing the cost of your cancer care.

  • You probably have little experience getting medical treatment for a complex condition like cancer. So, it might be challenging to arrange the care you need. Learn more about taking charge of your cancer care.

The most common teen and young adult cancers

Learning about your cancer may help you feel more in control and less anxious. The following cancers are most common in teenagers, ages 15 to 19:

The following types of cancer are most common among young adults, which can include people up to age 39:

Learn more about different types of cancer.

Tips for learning about your cancer

Besides information on your specific cancer, here are some other ways to find information:

  • Ask questions at your doctor’s appointments. Ask about the cancer, your symptoms, and your treatment plan. You can bring a family member or friend to your appointments to help take notes and remember things.

  • Do online research using reliable cancer information websites. You can ask your health care team or a librarian where to find good information online. Learn how to evaluate cancer information on the Internet.

  • Talk with your doctor about anything you hear or read that you have questions about.

  • Join a teen or young adult support group. Support groups are available online or in person for many cancers.

When you need help

As a young adult or teen, you are either becoming independent or you already are. Depending on your age, you might live on your own or even have your own family. But you will probably need some support to cope with cancer. Here are some ways to find emotional, spiritual, and practical help:

  • Talk with a friend, family member, teacher, or religious leader about your thoughts, feelings, and fears.

  • Find professional help. Talking with a counselor, social worker, or therapist can be very valuable. Ask your health care team to recommend someone who works with people your age who have cancer.

  • A social worker can help you find practical help, such as health insurance or rides to treatment. They can also help you find support groups. Talking to other teens or young adults with cancer can be very helpful. Learn more about support groups for young adults with cancer.

  • Reach out on social media. You can use Instagram, Snapchat, and other apps to stay connected with friends even if you miss work or school. You can also find other young adults with cancer. Learn about online communities for support.

  • Write about what you are going through. Writing can help you cope with stress.

Finding the right treatment

Cancer is treated in different ways depending on the type and stage, a person's age and general health, and other factors. It is important to find a doctor who has experience treating your type of cancer in teens or young adults. Your oncologist will work with you and your loved ones to come up with a treatment plan. This plan will include the types of treatment you have and how long treatment may last.

Treatment in a clinical trial is also an option for many teens and young adults. A clinical trial is a research study that tests a new treatment to learn if it is safe, effective, and possibly better than the standard treatments. Teens and young adults with cancer are underrepresented in clinical trials. Only about 2 in 100 young adults with cancer join clinical trials. This is a problem, because doctors and researchers need to know more about the best cancer treatments for people in this age group. Clinical trials also give you the chance to try a new treatment that might work for you. You cannot participate in a clinical trial if you are already receiving cancer treatment, so talk with your health care team before you begin treatment. Learn more about clinical trials.

Treatment from a children’s cancer specialist

You might want to talk with a children’s cancer specialist, or pediatric oncologist, if your cancer is common in children. These cancers include brain tumors, leukemia, osteosarcoma, and Ewing sarcoma. You may benefit from treatments that were originally designed to help children.

For cancers that are more common in adults, you might have the treatment other adults receive. Examples of cancers more common in adults include breast cancer, colon cancer, and melanoma. If you are not sure which type of oncologist you need, talk with your regular doctor.

Learn more about choosing a doctor for your cancer care. You can also learn about choosing a treatment center.

Related Resources

Guide to Childhood Cancer

When the Doctor Says “Cancer”

More Information

13thirty

Teens Health: Cancer Center

Stupid Cancer