Shifting attention to cancer in young adults

As greater numbers of young people get cancer, how can plan sponsors help address the physical and financial challenges?

Young people don’t always recognize their cancer risk. But new findings are prompting them to consider this risk earlier in life. And prompting plan sponsors to prioritize preventive care.

While the chance of dying from cancer has declined over the past three decades, cancer incidence has increased. In fact, 2024 will be the first year in which new U.S. cancer cases surpass 2 million, the American Cancer Society (ACS) reported. 

And many of the newly diagnosed will be young people. The under-50 age group was the only one to experience a rise in overall cancer incidence between 1995 and 2020. And in an alarming turn, colorectal cancer and cervical cancer are on the rise among younger populations.

Here’s what the ACS found: 

  • Only the under-50 age group experienced a rise in new cancer cases during this period. Neither the 65-plus nor the 50-to-64 age group experienced an increase. 
  • Colorectal cancer incidence isn’t rising overall but is rising among people younger than 55. 
  • Cervical cancer incidence isn’t rising overall but is rising among women between 30 and 44.

Facing financial challenges

For young people, the financial hardship of cancer can be severe. Many are trying to pay off debts. They may lack savings or extra sources of income. 

In addition, young people are less likely to have health insurance. About 30% of adults younger than 26 are uninsured, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) reported. That’s the highest rate among any age group. 

Cancer treatment can cause financial challenges for patients of any age. Not only must they consider out-of-pocket costs, but also the possibility of lost earnings. 

A 2022 ACS Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) study found that more than half (51%) of 1,218 cancer patients and survivors had medical debt. Nearly three-quarters (73%) said they worried about paying for current or future cancer care. 

What plan sponsors can do:

Plan sponsors can encourage cancer risk assessment and testing for young people. Data is key to both.

  • A plan sponsor can use patient data to identify those who should be screened earlier.
  • Incentivizing screening, or engaging patients with screening pilots, can help increase screening rates and earlier diagnoses. The earlier the stage cancer is diagnosed, the greater the chance of the patient’s survival – and the lower the cost of care. 
  • Data insights can also shed light on barriers to care. Social determinants of health (SDOH) – including housing, work, and transportation – can affect cancer risk.

Emphasizing timely screening

The rise in cancer cases among young people shows that timely screening matters. But young people may be more likely to ignore symptoms. 

To this end, plan sponsors should emphasize the following:

  • The importance of healthy lifestyles.
  • The need for attention to serious symptoms.
  • Screening recommendations. For example, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends regular colorectal cancer screening, including colonoscopies, starting at age 45.
  • Family history. People with a family history of certain cancers should talk to their doctors about starting screening at a younger age. 

Providing support

Patients can be overwhelmed after a cancer diagnosis. And younger patients disconnected from support systems may have an even harder time coping.

Members of “Gen Z,” or those born between 1997 and 2005, have lower vitality than members of other generations, the second annual Vitality in America study from The Cigna Group found. Gen Z scored lower for physical, social, intellectual, emotional, and environmental well-being.

Among people diagnosed with cancer, those with low vitality rated their physical and mental health less favorably than those with high vitality, the study found. 

Younger patients – who face a greater lifetime risk of treatment-related side effects or additional cancer diagnoses – may need help navigating the life-changing situation. 

Plan sponsors should look for programs that support patients throughout their experience. This includes diagnosis, treatment, and advanced illness, as well as survivorship. 

Cost and complexity continue to create barriers to cancer care. Offering solutions that help reduce costs and lead to improved outcomes is vital.

See how our solutions can help
Guided Cancer Care
Evernorth Guided Cancer Care helps plan members get the right care early enough in their cancer journey to have a positive impact on both health outcomes and costs. Our comprehensive approach combines two unique solutions: Concierge Cancer Support and Cancer Consult Service. Concierge Cancer Support is designed to quickly identify where we can add the most value for each member and provides members a single point of contact – a Care Advocate. Care Advocates provide personalized care plans for each member, serving as a resource to guide and support members through their entire care journey from diagnosis, to treatment, to survivorship. Additionally, we help ensure that members with the most complex cancer cases receive an accurate diagnosis and optimal treatment plan options through our Cancer Consult Service.