Young Adult Cancers: Making a Difference with Tomorrow’s Doctors

September 25, 2012

Dr. Anthony Audino of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital talks about the L.E.A.P. (Learning, Education, Awareness, Prevention) adolescent and young adult (AYA) Cancer Program, funded through the Prevent Cancer Foundation 2012 Community Grants program,to increase education and training for awareness and recognition of AYA cancers at both public and professional levels.

Q: What is considered adolescent and young adult cancer?

A: The definition of the adolescent and young adult cancer patient has evolved over time and recently has been defined as those diagnosed with cancer at ages 15 through 39. Nearly 70,000 people aged 15 to 39 years are diagnosed with cancer every year.  AYA patients are a unique population with regards to both cancer epidemiology and psychosocial needs.  Patients are caught between two worlds, childhood and adulthood:  Many of these patients are beginning the process of finding their independence, going to college, away from parents/family, and no longer feeling like children but not quite yet feeling like adults.

Q: Why is this age group important to you?

A: It is important that we focus our efforts toward this group of patients because the incidence of cancer in the AYA population has steadily been increasing over the last 25 years, but the overall survival in these patients has not improved. One theory for this is delays in seeking medical attention. Diagnoses may be delayed because AYAs typically see themselves as invulnerable, causing them to ignore or minimize common cancer symptoms.  In addition, providers tend not to think about cancer in this age group, and symptoms may be attributed to fatigue, stress or other common causes. By educating young people and physicians, we may be able to diagnose and therefore treat AYA patients much earlier.

Q: What is the L.E.A.P. AYA Cancer Program?

A: Our AYA Oncology program identifies the urgent need for education, training and communication activities to raise awareness and recognition of AYA preventable cancers at both public and professional levels. With the assistance of the Prevent Cancer Foundation and their generous grant, we were able to begin an outreach program entitled, “L.E.A.P. AYA Cancer.” Our program is a combination of “teach the teacher” and “pay it forward.” We provide knowledge regarding the most common AYA cancers, the signs and symptoms associated with them, and ways to prevent these cancers to medical students and residents. By empowering these medical professionals with this knowledge early in their learning, we hope to impact the way they examine and educate patients throughout their medical career.

Q: What have been the program’s successes so far?

A: Thus far, we have met with several trainees and presented our information. Through our program, we have seen an increase of great than 75% in their AYA knowledge. Armed with this teaching, we have had several residents volunteer to “pay it forward”, and in the fall they will be going into the community to educate high school and college students with their new knowledge.

Q: How many residents, high school and college students do you expect to reach?

A: We would like to reach as many students as possible by attending health and biology related classes. The more people that we can inform the better.  We are focusing our efforts on inner-city schools as they may have fewer resources than other schools, but plan on trying to engage many of the communities in our city.

Learn more information about the Prevent Cancer Foundation 2012 Community Grant Awardees.

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