Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States and, as many of us know from supporting friends and family coping with the disease, it doesn't discriminate based on age. Still, it's shocking when someone we would imagine to be young and healthy is diagnosed and, often, our immediate reaction is, "but she's too young to get cancer."
In an op-ed published yesterday in the San Francisco Chronicle, S. Lochlann Jain, PhD, an associate professor of anthropology at Stanford, dispels the myth that cancer is a disease of the elderly and calls for improving doctor-patient interactions to increase early detection of cancer in young adults. Jain writes:
Some 70,000 Americans between the ages of 20 and 40 are being diagnosed with cancer every year. Even this number does not include those diagnosed in their 40s, who could have been diagnosed and treated in their 30s with higher chances of success. In fact, three-quarters of adults under age 40 who are diagnosed with cancer are diagnosed with late-stage cancers, giving them drastically reduced survival chances.
...The recent focus of cancer research on early detection, genetic testing and over-treatment neglects the reasons for the under-detection of cancer in young adults. Attention to the prevalence of misdiagonosis is critical, given the inefficacy of current treatments for most later-stage cancers.
We desperately need to change how we think about the everyday doctor-patient interactions that lead to the successes and failures of cancer detection.