Health Service Needs of Adolescent and Young Adult Survivors of Childhood Cancer

Although cure rates for childhood cancer now exceed 80 percent, many childhood cancer survivors will experience long-term effects of both their cancer and its therapies. These long-term effects may be medical, emotional or psychosocial and can include second cancers, neurocognitive deficits, reproductive challenges and mental illness. For these reasons, follow-up health care for young cancer survivors is recommended and should include screening for second cancers, surveillance and management of physical and psychosocial late effects of cancer and treatment, and promotion of psychosocial adjustment.

Despite these recommendations, the majority of adolescent and young adult cancer survivors are lost in transition from pediatric to adult follow-up care; at the age of 19 years, cancer survivors in BC are no longer cared for in the children's system and are advised to obtain follow-up care from a family physician who manages adults. Yet, some adolescents and young adults do not have a family physician, and still others are unaware of their heightened risk for second cancers and late effects stemming from cancer treatments. Moreover, the delivery of health services varies widely across urban, rural and remote areas of British Columbia, undoubtedly resulting in differences in medical and psychosocial needs.

Dr. Fuchsia Howard's work will determine the medical and psychosocial needs of cancer survivors in their adolescent and young adult years. First, she will determine the specific medical and psychosocial issues faced by these survivors and what their experiences are in managing and obtaining assistance with these issues. The second objective of this study is to determine health care professionals' experiences and challenges in providing medical and psychosocial services to these cancer survivors. The third objective will be to engage cancer survivors and health care professionals in the exchange and translation of knowledge to lead to health service recommendations and interventions tailored to benefit this high-risk population. Young adulthood, in particular, is a stage of development involving many life-related changes, including decisions about education, employment, relationships and family that can be severely affected by the late effects of cancer.

Ultimately, this work will contribute to a comprehensive program of research focused on understanding and addressing the unique needs of high-risk patients throughout the cancer trajectory, from prevention to survivorship. Addressing medical and psychosocial challenges in the transition from adolescence to young and middle adulthood is key to bolstering the formative years that promote, or limit, lifetime potential.