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Adolescents and Young Adult Cancer Patients Lack Psychological, Social Support

Update Date: Jul 17, 2012 12:24 PM EDT

Being diagnosed with cancer is life-changing and traumatizing for all involved. But there is one group who seems to be forgotten once the diagnosis is made.

According to a University of Michigan research, cancer patients between 14 and 39 years old, have social, psychological and informational support needs that might be going unmet.

Researchers say that this age group demonstrates a different set of psychosocial needs and issues related to their unique age-related development when compared to both children and older adult cancer patients and treatment in a pediatric or adult setting can influence their clinical and psychosocial well-being.

"When patients in this age group are diagnosed with cancer, they face issues like premature confrontation with mortality, changes in physical appearance, disruptions in school or work, financial challenges and loss of reproductive capacity, that can all be particularly distressing," Bradley Zebrack, ,the study's lead author, said. "Whether it's mental health care, information for topics like infertility, or other aspects of care like camps or retreat programs, this study shows that many of these patients aren't getting the care they need to address these unique challenges."

Results from the study were published in the journal Cancer.

Researchers surveyed 215 newly diagnosed cancer patients between the ages of 14 and 39, and assessed each of their use of and desire for various information resources, emotional support services and practical support services.

Researchers said those in their 20s were significantly less likely than teens and patients in their 30s to report using mental health services and were more likely to report an unmet need for cancer information, infertility information and diet/nutrition information.

Compared with teens that were treated in pediatric settings, young adults treated in adult, as opposed to pediatric, facilities were more likely to report an unmet need for age-appropriate Internet sites, mental health services, camp and retreat programs, transportation assistance and complementary and alternative health services.

Zebrack said because there is a lack of research surrounding the needs and desires for care of patients in this age group, it can be hard for health care professionals to establish age-appropriate services to meet their unique psychosocial challenges.

He hopes the results of this study might help medical professionals better tune their care to meet the needs of their adolescent and young adult patients.

"Our research shows increasing patient referral to community-based social service agencies and reputable Internet resources can enhance the care and improve the quality of life for this group of patients," Zebrack said. "The more we know about their needs, the better support health care professionals will be able to provide."

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