Getting adolescents and young adults through sarcoma

I came to work at the University of Iowa last year to start an adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer program. Since then, many people have asked me why it’s so important to have a program devoted to this group of patients. Although I am a pediatric sarcoma specialist, my fellowship training was in a hospital that took care of patients based on their type of cancer and not just on their age. Because of that, the majority of my patients with sarcoma were teens and young adults, and I found that there are needs that are specific to this age group that need to be addressed.

I am always amazed at how teens and young adults can face a diagnosis of sarcoma with courage and resiliency, while dealing with all the other stressors that come with being a young adult. For people without a cancer diagnosis, these years are stressful, as they begin to decide on life plans, school, career, and personal relationships.

Another challenge that the AYA sarcoma patient faces is a lack of clinical trials for their age and type of cancer. We haven’t learned as much about sarcoma as we have about other cancers, like leukemia. This, combined with the relative rarity of sarcoma cases, makes it challenging to find clinical trials that could help improve the outcomes of sarcoma patients. By bringing doctors who typically treat adult patients and doctors who typically treat children together under the banner of AYA, we at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics have joined forces to develop treatments that focus on the individual patient and offer more clinical trials for our patients.