Adolescents and young adults with cancer: An orphaned population
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Adolescents and young adults (AYAs [15 to 29 years of age]) with cancer have a distinct cancer epidemiology, evolving hormonal milieu, maturing development, transitions in autonomy, increasing demands in education, entry into the workplace and family responsibilities. The prevalence of epithelial cancers in AYA patients represents a major shift from the embryonal cancers that predominate in early childhood. Thus, one would expect a specialized expertise to be required in caring for these patients, who typically fall between paediatric and oncology spheres of practice. Complex issues contribute to the lower survival rates noted for AYAs compared with those of younger patients, even with the same cancer. Cooperative group clinical trial participation has been crucial in advancing the excellent outcomes accomplished in paediatric oncology, yet participation by adolescents in clinical trials (either adult or paediatric) is typically low. There is increasing evidence that both appropriate location of care and access to specialists in paediatric or adult oncology contribute to favourable outcomes. Issues specific to AYA patients should be studied rigorously so that evidence-based approaches may be used to reduce waiting times, ensure prompt referral to appropriate centres, increase accrual to clinical trials, foster compliance, provide comprehensive supportive care and promote programs designed to enhance survivorship.
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