Unique Needs of Adolescent and Young Adult Patients
When a young adult is diagnosed with cancer, treatment may be within a children’s hospital or within an adult care clinic. However, neither care center seems to be an ideal fit for this “in-between” patient population with unique needs. More concerning is the fact that little improvement has been made in survival rates in decades for those between the ages of 15 to 39.
At the Children’s Cancer Hospital, the Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Program was developed to address the special medical and psychosocial needs this age group has. Fertility trials, targeted therapies, vocational counseling and peer-to-peer support are just a few services provided through the program to all MD Anderson young adult patients. They also started a new Facebook fan page called Young Cancer Connection to help young adult cancer patients and survivors connect with one another.
In 2009, a patient advisory council was formed consisting of young adult patients and survivors as well as faculty and staff from MD Anderson. This patient-centered AYA Advisory Council is one of the first in the nation that allows young adults to work collaboratively with hospital employees to enhance the experience and services offered to young adult patients. Already, the group has helped with the planning of a young adult cancer symposium and provided feedback on the best ways to reach this patient population.
In addition, a new program, Cancer180, was formed by Anderson Network to coordinate young adult social outings for patients, survivors and caregivers and encourage peer-to-peer interaction. Recently, young adult cancer patients and survivors met up at Joystix for a night of arcade action hosted by Cancer180.
Medically, there are several studies focusing on the epidemiological differences of this patient population compared to its younger and older counterparts. Michael Rytting, M.D., from the Children’s Cancer Hospital, presented research at the American Society of Hematology’s annual meeting on the benefits of treating young adult leukemia patients with a pediatric therapy compared to the adult regimen.
At the American Society of Pediatric Hematology Oncology’s annual meeting, Peter Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., presented a new way of delivering standard osteosarcoma therapy in an outpatient setting to improve quality of life for young adults. The study showed the safety and feasibility of outpatient osteosarcoma therapy and unveiled that most young adult patients preferred this type of care.
The cell therapy and leukemia teams have also completed studies focusing on AYA patients during stem cell transplants. Anna Franklin, M.D., and Janet Ortiz, R.N., reported ways to successfully address the unmet social needs of this patient population at the BMT Tandem Meetings. In addition, Laura Worth, M.D., Ph.D., and Nicole Rosipal, R.N., are piloting an exercise gaming program for use during transplant, and anticipate that exercise will help decrease anxiety and increase overall performance for AYAs receiving transplants.
As more attention is given to AYA patients, physicians are learning how to better care for these patients from both a medical standpoint and a psychological and emotional perspective. Coupled by collaboration with the AYA Advisory Council, MD Anderson has established itself as a leader in improving both outcomes and quality of life for all AYA patients.