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Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 8.58.27 AMMore than 72,000 adolescents and young adults (AYA) between 15 and 39 are diagnosed with cancer each year in the U.S. While survival rates for pediatric and older cancer patients have increased over the past two decades, AYA survival rates have seen little or no improvement. Fortunately, clinical care can help to improve these rates. The Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center at Northwestern was just designated a Center of Excellence, indicating its superior care for AYA oncology patients .

A variety of factors may contribute to poorer outcomes in these patients. These include limited or delayed access to care which may be caused by a lack of health insurance, among other factors. Once young adults do see a practitioner, it often takes health care providers a longer time to diagnose AYAs than patients of other ages. In addition, there is inconsistency in the quality of cancer treatment, follow-up care, and psychosocial and support services for AYAs. Finally, adolescents and young adults have historically participated in clinical trials less than pediatric and older cancer patients, which may also prevent an understanding of the best medicine to treat this unique population.

To address these disparities in cancer treatment, AYA oncology leaders need to ensure that AYA patients are provided with a core group of care and information, including fertility counseling, health insurance and financial counseling, clinical trail education and facilitation, psychosocial support, and assistance to surveillance and survivorship.  The Health Care Right Initiative, which addresses the critical issues patients and their physicians face when dealing with a health crisis, has launched the Change it Back Centers of Excellence Program to facilitate the expansion of needed services to the AYA cancer population and increasing awareness about available services to patients and their families.

The Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center at Northwestern received its designation last week at the annual conference of Critical Mass: The Young Adult Cancer Alliance. It is only one of two centers with this important recognition. The Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health Sciences University is the only other center with this honor. Together these two institutions are transforming cancer care for young patients to provide them with increased survival and quality-of-life throughout survivorship.

Read about the fertility preservation program at Northwestern.

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