Adolescents and young adults

Adolescents and young adults

In recent years, adolescent and young adult oncology has emerged as a distinct field due to lack of progress in survival and quality-of-life outcomes (Ferrari et al. 2010; Smith et al. 2013). The significant developmental change that occurs during this life stage complicates a diagnosis of cancer, often leading to unique physical, social and emotional effects for young people at the time of diagnosis and throughout the cancer journey (Smith et al. 2012).

In caring for young people with cancer, akin to the comorbidities that require specific care in the older cancer population, the treatment team needs to pay careful attention to promoting normal development (COSA 2014). This requires personalised assessments and management involving a multidisciplinary, disease-specific, developmentally targeted approach that adheres to the following principles:

  • understanding the developmental stages of adolescence and supporting normal adolescent health and development alongside cancer management
  • understanding and supporting the rights of young people
  • communication skills and information delivery that are appropriate to the young person
  • meeting the needs of all involved, including the young person, their carers and their family
  • working with educational institutions and workplaces
  • considering survivorship and palliative care needs.

An oncology team caring for an adolescent or young adult with cancer should be able to demonstrate these specific areas of expertise:

  • be able to ensure access to expert adolescent and young adult health providers who have knowledge specific to the biomedical and psychosocial needs of the population
  • understand the biology and current management of the disease in the adolescent and young adult age group
  • consider participating in research and clinical trials for each patient
  • engage in proactive discussion and management of fertility preservation, late effects of treatment, ongoing need for contraception, and psychosocial and psychosexual needs
  • provide treatment in an environment that is friendly to adolescents and young adults.