People of all ages develop cancer. But that doesn’t mean there’s a one-size-fits-all solution to treating them.
This is especially true of adolescents and young adults, a population that’s often caught between pediatric and adult medicine. As a result, those between the ages of 18 and 39 don’t always receive the treatment and support they need.
The Adolescent Young Adult (AYA) program intends to change that. A collaboration between the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Cancer Center at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, the program addresses the unique needs of adolescents and young adults with cancer. This includes transitioning them from a pediatric to adult health care setting.
“These young cancer patients historically have fallen between the cracks,” said Peter Lee, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of the AYA program.
For example, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is typically a children’s cancer, but it can also develop in adults. Bringing together pediatric and adult cancer expertise can lead to better treatment outcomes—and even new discoveries. “It turns out that if you manage the disease in adults the way you manage it in children, the results, in some cases, can be superior to the way we’ve historically treated adults,” said Peter J. Rosen, M.D., medical director of clinical research for the Disney Family Cancer Center. “There are several studies showing that young adults are better served if they’re treated with children’s protocols instead of adult treatment protocols.”
Addressing Unmet Needs
Historically, adolescents and young adults living with cancer, as well as those considered cancer survivors, have been an underserved and underrepresented population. There’s been a significant lack of resources and focus on improving their survival outcomes in comparison to other age groups. In fact, although 65,000 young people ages 15 to 40 are diagnosed with cancer every year, survival rates haven’t improved since 1975.