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Meeting the unique needs of adolescent and young adult patients with cancer

Meeting the unique needs of adolescent and young adult patients with cancer
April 5, 2022

While some adolescent and young adult (AYA) patients with cancer receive care in pediatrics, the majority are cared for in adult cancer systems. One of the challenges is that people in the AYA group don't fit well with either patient population. 

"If you think about the kinds of things that people in this age group are going through, there's a lot of life transition happening there," explains Dr. Allison Rosenthal, a Mayo Clinic hematologist and oncologist. "So this group really has a lot of unique needs as far as psychosocial development."

AYA patients are 15-39. They may be students in high school or college, may be living on their own, and often are caught between losing coverage under parental health insurance and finding their own. Another common issue is the desire to start a family as fertility can be impacted by cancer and its treatment, which makes conversations about fertility preservation very important.

"There's never a convenient time to be diagnosed with cancer, but particularly inconvenient in this group," says Dr. Rosenthal. "And they often get overlooked because I think people just don't recognize that cancer is really common in this age population as well."

Dr. Rosenthal is leading an effort at Mayo Clinic Cancer Center to change that. The adolescent and young adult cancer center program aims to help AYA patients receive access to age-appropriate care and support. This multidisciplinary approach will include not only cancer specialists but also social workers, health psychologists, and financial and vocational counselors. Another important piece is helping AYA patients transition from pediatric to adult care and plan for cancer survivorship.

"One of the most important things is having survivorship care that focuses on the needs of these patients as they move forward," says Dr. Rosenthal. "We're really fortunate that the majority of young adult patients who get cancer care are going to do well. Thankfully, there are going to be a lot of long-term survivors." 

April 4-10 is Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Awareness Week. On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Dr. Rosenthal discusses the needs of AYA patients with cancer.