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Needs of younger patients largely unmet

ZebrackWhen adolescents and young adults, ages 14-39, are diagnosed with cancer, they face unique challenges not well supported in the current treatment system.

A new study, published in the journal Cancer, shows significant proportions of patients in this age group are not getting the social, psychological, and informational support needed.

"When patients in this age group are diagnosed with cancer, they face issues like premature confrontation with mortality, changes in physical appearance, disruptions in school or work, financial challenges and loss of reproductive capacity, that can all be particularly distressing," said Bradley Zebrack (shown left), Ph.D., MSW, MPH, associate professor of social work and associate professor of health behavior and health education at the University of Michigan. "Whether it’s mental health care, information for topics like infertility, or other aspects of care like camps or retreat programs, this study shows that many of these patients aren’t getting the care they need to address these unique challenges."

Zebrack, the study’s lead author, added that because there’s a lack of research surrounding the needs and desires for care of young adult patients, it can be hard for health care professionals to establish age-appropriate services to meet their unique psychosocial challenges.

Researchers found that  compared with teens who were treated in pediatric settings, young adults treated in adult, as opposed to pediatric, facilities were more likely to report an unmet need for age-appropriate Internet sites, mental health services, camp and retreat programs, transportation assistance and complementary and alternative health services.

The results of this study might help medical professionals better tune their care to meet the needs of their adolescent and young adult patients, said Zebrack.

"Our research shows increasing patient referral to community-based social service agencies and reputable Internet resources can enhance the care and improve the quality of life for this group of patients," he said. "The more we know about their needs, the better support health care professionals will be able to provide."

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Approximately 2% of breast cancer cases in the United States occur in patients between the ages of 20 and 34, and cases of teens or tweens with breast cancer are even rarer. Four-year-old Aleisha Hunter in Canada is thought to be one of the youngest patients ever diagnosed with breast cancer.

Photo of Dr. Bradley Zebrack courtesy of UNM.

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