Background Recruiting large and representative samples of adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer survivors is important for gaining accurate data regarding the prevalence of unmet needs in this population. This study aimed to describe recruitment rates for AYAs recruited through a cancer registry with particular focus on: active clinician consent protocols, reasons for clinicians not providing consent and the representativeness of the final sample. Methods Adolescents and young adults aged 14 to19 years inclusive and listed on the cancer registry from January 1 2002 to December 31 2007 were identified. An active clinician consent protocol was used whereby the registry sent a letter to AYAs primary treating clinicians requesting permission to contact the survivors. The registry then sent survivors who received their clinician's consent a letter seeking permission to forward their contact details to the research team. Consenting AYAs were sent a questionnaire which assessed their unmet needs. Results The overall consent rate for AYAs identified as eligible by the registry was 7.8%. Of the 411 potentially eligible survivors identified, just over half (n = 232, 56%) received their clinician's consent to be contacted. Of those 232 AYAs, 65% were unable to be contacted. Only 18 AYAs (7.8%) refused permission for their contact details to be passed on to the research team. Of the 64 young people who agreed to be contacted, 50% (n = 32) completed the questionnaire. Conclusions Cancer registries which employ active clinician consent protocols may not be appropriate for recruiting large, representative samples of AYAs diagnosed with cancer. Given that AYA cancer survivors are highly mobile, alternative methods such as treatment centre and clinic based recruitment may need to be considered.