Karen Albritton, MD, Chief, Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School said, "90% of patients seen at pediatric centers are less than 15 years old; likewise more than 90% of patients seen by adult hospitals are greater than 40 years of age. This means adolescents are not the focus of care given by, or research done by, either system. The current binary system of medicine, divided arbitrarily and not biologically between age 16 and 21 does a disservice to those patients at the overlap. This is evidenced by the lack of progress in survival statistics for this population. They have had no change in survival rates in 20 years."
Dr. Peter Shaw, director of the Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology Program at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh reported, "We've known for several years that older adolescents and young adults don't have the same clinical trial rate as younger patients but didn't know all of the reasons why." Dr. Shaw further stated that this reality "translates into worse survival rates, because clinical trial enrollment is correlated with better survival when it comes to cancer."
In the past year there has been a lot of political talk about health care. Unfortunately, much of it is about managing cost, rather than increasing individualized care. Add to the equation the current economic climate, and I suspect these problems will become much worse before they get better. But remember, there are always options. As parents, it is our job to find them.
And never forget...
--The number of teenagers diagnosed with cancer has increased every year for the past 25 years.
--Teenagers and young adults (ages 15-22) are the only age group that have flat or declining survival rates from cancer.
--In the past 25 years ONLY ONE new cancer drug has been approved for pediatric use. Since kids can handle much more chemo than adults, most treatments are little more than mega doses of adult cancer chemotherapy treatments.
--For reasons not fully known, teenagers experience the highest rate of secondary cancers as a result of the high dose chemotherapy treatments.
--Teenagers have the highest fatality rate of any age group. Their cancers tend to be much more rare, therefore lacking established treatments. Their cancers also tend to be far more advanced when diagnosed.
--At the time of diagnosis in teens, the cancer has already spread in 80% of the cases. That is compared to the 20% in adults.