For those 70,000 individuals, their lives - their hopes, dreams, goals - are all too often derailed by this horrible illness. Many of these patients will survive the disease, but recent studies show that their challenges are just beginning.
A new analysis, which used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2009 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, suggests that Survivors of adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancers have worse health and unhealthier behaviors than people without a history of cancer.
These findings were published this June's edition of Cancer.
Compared with people who had no history of cancer, the researchers found that those who’d had cancer as AYAs were more likely to be current smokers, be obese, have various chronic conditions, be disabled, and have poor mental and physical health. Survivors of an AYA cancer were also more likely than those with no cancer history to be unemployed or unable to work and to report not seeking medical care due to concerns about cost.
Cancer is a disease that not only robs these individuals of their physical health, but can also result in psychological issues that lead to chronic problems in many areas of their lives - anxiety, depression, even chemical dependency.
“I think these findings are a reminder of how vulnerable this population is,” commented Dr. Ashley Wilder Smith, a behavioral scientist in the Outcomes Research Branch of NCI’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences. “There are a lot of psychosocial, educational, employment, and behavioral issues that we really need to be attending to for this group of cancer survivors.”
Easier access to survivorship programs and post-treatment counseling are key in helping younger cancer survivors overcome these obstacles. It's a stunning and, frankly, disturbing study that shows that we all need to do better in this area. Cancer care isn't simply about treating the disease - it's about treating the patients, giving them the best possible chance to lead happy, healthy lives.
• Many Survivors of Adolescent and Young Adult Cancers Have Chronic Health Problems, Unhealthy Behaviors (National Cancer Institute, June 26, 2012)