Saturday, July 7, 2012

Adolescent and Young Cancer Survivors Face Long-Term Health Problems

A recent study in the journal Cancer suggests that teenagers and young adults (15-29 years old at diagnosis) who survived cancer often have poor health compared to their peers later in life.  Long-term consequences of cancer, treatments and behavior (including approach to life) affect health of body and mind.

Researchers from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, led by Eric Tai, examined data from 4054 adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer survivors in the registry called Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS).

BRFSS using annual telephone surveys collects information on demographic profile (ie, age, sex, race, etc), risk behaviors (eg, alcohol use, smoking, exercise frequency, etc), chronic conditions, health status and health care access (insurance, for example). 

The researchers compared 4054 AYA cancer survivors with data from 345 592 respondents who had no history of cancer.  The comparison or scorecard presented a grim picture of AYA cancer survivors.  AYA cancer survivors had:

  • a significantly higher smoking rates (26% vs 18%); 
  • higher obesity (31% vs 27%); 
  • more chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease (14% vs 7%), hypertension (35% vs 29%), asthma (15% vs 8%), disability (36% vs 18%);
  • poor mental health (20% vs 10%);
  • poor physical health (24% vs 10%) - not getting enough exercise; and, 
  • were not receiving medical care because of cost (24% vs 15%) because were less likely to afford.

Higher smoking (+8%) among AYA survivors can contribute to second cancer and multiple chronic conditions. Chronic health conditions, obesity and lack of exercise are also a consequence of physical limitations faced during cancer treatment phase as well as the treatments' unintended effects.  Many teens and young people overwhelmed with the experience of dealing with cancer, "slow down," take up unhealthy behaviors (smoking and alcohol) and do not focus on exercise routine.  The financial burden of cancer treatment also contributes to poor follow-up and not seeking routine medical care for chronic conditions. Read more at NCI Cancer Bulletin.

The CDC study is a good reminder for parents, friends and colleagues of all AYA cancer survivors that as a community we should be doing more to help these your people become a healthy generation.  The help comes in many forms, such as, emotional support, being a good mentor and trainer, and just being a friend--the more the AYA survivors feel engaged, the less is the chance of them taking up unhealthy behaviors and more willingness to take ownership of their mind and body.

Some of the non-profits whose primary focus is AYA survivors are:
Eric Tai, Natasha Buchanan, Julie Townsend, Temeika Fairley, Angela Moore, & Lisa C. Richardson (2012). Health status of adolescent and young adult cancer survivors Cancer DOI: 10.1002/cncr.27445


Choosing Cancer Charity: CureSearch for Children's Cancer. June 1, 2012.
Lilly's Oncology on Canvas (SM). October 28, 2010.

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