Amid Rising Colorectal Cancer Rates, Young Adults Face Systemic Barriers to Care

A new study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that cancer afflicting adolescents and young adults cost the health care system $23.5 billion in 2021, and $259,324 for the average patient over a lifetime. The findings come as the American Cancer Society reported that incidence of colorectal cancer is becoming more common among that cohort: 20% of new colorectal cancer diagnoses in 2019 were for patients younger than 55, compared with 11% in 1995, per the Wall Street Journal. Experts say that to help, insurers can educate patients and improve access to screenings and care coordination.

Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of adolescents and young adults who are diagnosed with cancer have a positive prognosis: in 2019, the 5-year survival rate for people in that cohort was 85% “with prompt diagnosis and timely delivery of appropriate therapy,” per the Journal of Clinical Oncology study. Approximately 90,000 people ages 15-39 in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer annually — that’s about 5% of all new cancer cases. The increasing incidence of colorectal cancers contrasts with falling adolescent and young adult death rates “each year between 2010 and 2019,” the study said. Experts say systemic issues make detecting and treating cancers in the adolescent and young adult cohort difficult.

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Peter Johnson

Peter Johnson

Peter has worked as a journalist since 2011 and has covered health care since 2020. At AIS Health, Peter covers trends in finance, business and policy that affect the health insurance and pharma sectors. For Health Plan Weekly, he covers all aspects of the U.S. health insurance sector, including employer-sponsored insurance, Medicaid managed care, Medicare Advantage and the Affordable Care Act individual marketplaces. In Radar on Drug Benefits, Peter covers the operations of (and conflicts between) pharmacy benefit managers and pharmaceutical manufacturers, with a particular focus on pricing dynamics and market access. Before joining AIS Health, Peter covered transportation, public safety and local government for various outlets in Seattle, his hometown and current place of residence. He graduated with a B.A. from Colby College.

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