Can't Always Get What's Needed

Cancer patients during early adulthood need better social and mental health services

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Struggling with a cancer diagnosis is not uncommon. The sudden news can be particularly difficult and emotional. For those just starting an independent life as young adults, fighting cancer presents challenges.

A recent study found that younger individuals deal with a range of unique social and psychological challenges after a cancer diagnosis.  

And they may not be getting the help that they need.

"Confused? Ask your oncologist for a therapist referral."

Lead author Bradley Zebrack, PhD, MPH, a social work professor at the University of Michigan, and colleagues conducted a study of adolescents and young adults being treated in both pediatric and adult cancer facilities.

The researchers identified 215 recent cancer patients (diagnosed within the past four months) from ages 14 to 39. They each came from a different facility (99 pediatric care settings and 116 adult care settings).

The 75 percent who responded to the survey answered questions about the information resources they used, the emotional support services they accessed and any practical support services they took advantage of.

In analyzing the data, the researchers took into account the respondents' race/ethnicity, sex, relationship status, severity of cancer, treatment, treatment-related side effects and whether the person was employed and/or enrolled in school.

The results of their analysis revealed a number of needs among this population that were not being met.

Those in their 20s, for example, were more likely than the teens and "30 somethings" to report that they needed information on cancer, infertility or diet/nutrition that they did not receive. They were also less likely to use professional mental health services than the other two age groups.

The researchers also found that the adolescents and young adults who were treated in adult facilities reported needing more age-appropriate information.

Compared to those in pediatric facilities, the patients in adult facilities needed more age-appropriate Internet sites, professional mental health services, camps or retreat programs, assistance with transportation and complementary and alternative health services.

"Substantial proportions of adolescents and young adults are not getting their psychosocial care needs met," the authors concluded. "Bolstering psychosocial support staff and patient referral to community-based social service agencies and reputable Internet resources may enhance care and improve quality of life for adolescents and young adults."

Dr. Zebrack said he hopes this study helps medical professionals better understand and respond to the needs of teenagers and young adults who have been diagnosed with cancer.

"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," he said. "The more we know about their needs, the better support health care professionals will be able to provide."

The study was published June 28 in the journal Cancer. The research was funded by HopeLab Foundation in Redwood City, Calif. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 18, 2012
Last Updated:
February 18, 2013