Peer and Family Support Tops Needs of Young Adult Cancer Survivors

Armen Hareyan's picture

Support Cancer Patients

Adolescent and young adult cancer patients rank support from family, friends and other cancer survivors as high priority healthcare needs, according to a new University of Southern California study. Published in the December 15, 2006 issue of CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the study reveals this traditionally underserved population of 15-29 year-old cancer survivors feels that socially connecting with other cancer-afflicted peers of the same age may in some cases be more beneficial than receiving support from family and friends, contrary to what their physicians believe.

Led by Brad Zebrack, Ph.D., M.S.W. of the University of Southern California School of Social Work in Los Angeles, researchers conducted a comprehensive survey with oncologists, psychologists, nurses, social workers and young adult cancer survivors to better characterize the needs of this patient population and rank them in terms of importance.

According to Dr. Zebrack, "health professionals and survivors value highly the support of family and friends. However, meeting other young people who share a common experience becomes an opportunity for young adult cancer patients and survivors to address common concerns, such as coping with uncertainty about one's health and future, feelings of being alone and isolated, body changes, sexuality and intimacy, dating and relationships, and employment issues."


The study also found that this particular population prefers to be treated by physicians who are sensitive to their age-specific needs. They want to see doctors who understand what is important to a young adult at this stage of life, intuitively know how they think and act and, as a result, prescribe treatments best suited for them.

Other high priority health and supportive care needs reported by health professionals and young adult survivors were having adequate health insurance and on-going surveillance and assessment of long-term effects of treatment.

Despite dramatic improvements in childhood cancer survival rates, studies show the incidence of cancer in adolescents and young adults has actually risen higher than in children and older adult patients. Moreover, the improvement in five-year survival for this population has been poorer than average. Scientists propose that dramatic physical, psychological and social changes that occur during adolescence may contribute to the different outcomes. Therefore, understanding the unique treatment needs of adolescents and young adults with cancer may yield better understanding of cancer management.

"These findings provide oncology professionals and young adult cancer survivors with insight into each others' values and perspectives," conclude the authors.

They add that the study also points to a need for more age-appropriate educational materials written in a way that makes sense and has meaning for adolescents and young adults.