Cancer in adolescents and young adults

Four-year Partnership-funded project looks at "lost tribe"

Today the Canadian Cancer Society released its annual cancer statistics report and turned the spotlight on cancer in adolescents and young adults.

The Society’s estimates suggest that this year approximately 2,075 Canadians between 15 and 29 will be told they have cancer. This age group is the focus of a special section in this year’s report.

Cancer in young people is also the centre of the Adolescent and Young Adult Task Force (AYA) project funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.

“Our basic understanding of this ‘lost tribe’ of people with cancer is in its infancy in Canada and the support we are beginning to receive is immensely helpful,” says Dr. Ronald Barr, a pediatric hematologist and oncologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario who is co-chair of the AYA Task Force.

With funding from the Partnership, the AYA Task Force is leading a four-year investigation to better understand the cancer experience among adolescents and young adults, particularly the transition from pediatric to adult cancer centres.

Currently in its second year of activities, the investigation will evaluate care, assess how survivors are monitored as they mature, and produce and advocate for specific guidelines and recommendations that will aim to improve outcomes and quality of life and can be practically implemented across Canada.

Dr. Ronald Barr, co-chair of the Adolescent and Young Adult Task Force

“Often diagnosed and treated when they are children, teenage and young adult patients have been ‘lost’ in part because when they reach 18 years of age the team responsible for their care and the facility where they are followed up changes,” says Dr. Barr.

“Alternatively, they may be diagnosed as adolescents and they do not necessarily want to be treated as a child nor should they be treated medically as an adult. People with cancer in this age group can go on to have full lives, but research shows their survival rates and their follow-up health-care needs require careful attention.”

The Partnership is one organization in an emerging coalition of Canadian stakeholders – including the C17 Network and the Institute for Cancer Research of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research – that are supporting studies to improve how this group of people is understood and treated for cancer.  The Canadian focus on cancer in adolescents and young adults has been inspired by American research sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

“The Partnership was established in part to bring a pan-Canadian approach to cancer control and to add to the evidence that will improve outcomes for people with cancer in Canada,” says Leanne Kitchen Clarke, Vice-President, Strategy, Performance Measures and Communications, Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.

“The statistics released today from the Canadian Cancer Society reinforce that the pioneering steps taken by the AYA Task Force are fundamental to improvements in caring for people with cancer in this important and young age group. The Partnership is very pleased to support the Task Force and to be involved in this developing area of cancer control.”