Young Men With Cancer

A Literature Review

Heather J. Campbell-Enns, MSc; Roberta L. Woodgate, PhD, RN


Cancer Nurs. 2013;36(1):E36-47. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Background: The impacts of cancer on young men are reportedly different from the experiences of others. These impacts may adversely affect the health and the healthcare of young men. Objective: The purpose of this article was to conduct a literature review to examine what is known about the experiences of young men with cancer.
Methods: A systematic strategy was used to locate original research that included 4 electronic databases using the search terms men, young men, male, father, parents, and cancer experience.
Results: Sixteen studies met the inclusion criteria. Twelve studies used qualitative methodology, and 4 studies used a quantitative method; no mixed-method studies were found. Of the studies reviewed, 6 focused on the experiences of men but not young men aged 20 to 44 years exclusively, 10 studies had male and female respondents. Analysis revealed 5 themes: (1) manhood in question, (2) the good father or not, (3) family and that special bond, (4) silencing cancer talk, and (5) living with uncertainty.
Conclusions: Young men are building resources while creating family bonds, and they identify themselves through their work. Young men with cancer have needs specific to their gender and cohort.
Implications for Practice: Methodological and conceptual recommendations are presented. This includes conducting research focusing on this cohort and using a life-course perspective. Understanding the overall experience of this cohort will enable the development of clinical interventions for young men with cancer. Supportive care in a nonthreatening environment is needed to help young men cope with the problems described.


Approximately 10 000 cancers are diagnosed in young adults aged 20 to 44 years every year in Canada.[1] European cancer incidence is similar to the Canadian rates.[1] Australia and the United States experience a higher incidence among young adults than Canada or Europe does, whereas the few available registries in Asia and South America show a lower incidence rate.[1] The difference in rates worldwide may be attributed to specific risk factors, screening behaviors, or cancer registry practices.[1]

In Canada, one-third of these diagnoses are among men diagnosed with nonepithelial cancers such as testicular cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and melanoma.[1] This is different from men older than 45 years, as the older cohort has an increased incidence in epithelial cancer.[1] Apart from these potential biological differences in disease, the younger cohort of men with cancer experience psychosocial impacts of cancer uniquely,[2] which may adversely affect the health and the healthcare of these individuals.[3]

The young adult group (20–44 years) is seen as being composed of more than 1 normal developmental stage.[4] Each stage is characterized by key developmental events and/or transition points[4,5] when the young adult may examine the changes in his/her life.[5] These events may evoke feelings of stress[6] and be perceived as positive or negative, possibly influenced by gender.[5]

The diagnosis of young adult cancer (20 to 44 years) affects this population in complex ways. From a societal point of view, the cost of cancer is high in terms of the potential years of life lost in the cases of life-limiting disease.[5,6] From an individual or family point of view, a cancer diagnosis impacts the decisions that a young man makes in areas of his life such as education, employment, and relationships.[5,6] Furthermore, the young adult group includes much of the reproductive age group of men. As a result, it may be reasoned that this group contains men with a cancer diagnosis parenting minor children,[7,8] thus impacting family systems in the process of growth and change.

Supportive needs in cancer may vary depending on the gender and age of the individual.[9] To better meet the needs of individuals with cancer, it is critical that a range of experiences are represented in the literature. There is a need to focus research activities on men impacted by cancer who are young men, as the cancer experience may be different from that experienced by individuals at other life stages. This research has the potential to identify supportive needs specific to this cohort and result in improved patient care and quality of life for young men with cancer.

The purpose of this article was to present a critical review of research examining the experience of cancer in young men 20 to 44 years old. The first section of this article will describe the major themes found in the literature, followed by a discussion of conceptual and methodological issues.