Are We Listening to Our Teen and Young Adult Patients with Cancer?

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Teenage and young adult patients with cancer may need additional assistance
Teenage and young adult patients with cancer may need additional assistance

The survival rate for teenage and young adult (TYA) patients with cancer hasn't budged in 40 years.1

While all other age categories for pediatric and adult patients with cancer have made “dramatic gains” in survival rates,1 and despite the fact that TYAs are recognized as having a high endurance to chemotherapy and radiation treatment, the survival rate in this group has remained static over recent decades.2

While it may be important to note that this group isn't recommended for early screening for cancer,2 there is also evidence that points to more complicated reasoning for this lack of survival improvement.

New evidence that morbidity of TYAs after diagnosis has remained unchanged arrived in March when a study published online in the Annals of Oncology revealed that 45% of patients with cancer in a TYA population age 13 to 24 died within 12 months of their diagnosis.

Some before they began any form of cancer therapy treatment. Most of these 95 early deaths occurred between 90 and 365 days after diagnosis.3

What stands out in this new study is its observation that only “4 of the 95 deaths within 1 year had cancer treatment, or definite consequence of it, recorded on the death certificate.”3

None of the death certificates examined in the aforementioned study contained suicide as a cause of death, however, according to Archie Bleyer, MD, FRCP, who is a clinical research professor in the department of radiation medicine at the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Oregon, TYAs face a high risk of suicide. Dr. Bleyer has been studying the disparity between TYA survival rates and others for almost a decade.

RELATED: Suicide Risk is High in Young After Cancer Diagnosis

“This is an age group that we as oncologists have to take particular care of,” Dr. Bleyer told Cancer Therapy Advisor.

“I have seen many programs that claim that a person can somehow will themselves to live longer. I don't know if that is true. The opposite of that however, will in the opposite direction, I do believe can actually shorten a life. That is a form of suicide,” Dr. Bleyer said

He went on to explain that it's possible that given this age group's susceptibility to suicidal instincts, the consequences of a cancer diagnosis may have a greater psychological toll than oncologists are realizing.

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