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Helping Your Teen Fight Cancer

Posted 6/9/2017 by UHBlog

When teens and young adults face a cancer diagnosis, their challenges are different than those of children and older adults. Talk to us about age-specific spaces and services to support your loved one.

Helping Your Teen Fight Cancer

Receiving a diagnosis of cancer is never easy, but for teenagers – who are in the process of asserting their independence – the diagnosis can feel especially traumatic and isolating.

“This is the time when you’re graduating high school and thinking about college and careers,” says pediatric hematologist/oncologist Yousif (Joe) Matloub, MD. “Then all of a sudden, you’re hit with this diagnosis that halts your life. You look around and all your peers are continuing with their lives while you’re stuck in this uncertain situation. Emotionally, it can be very devastating.”

The good news is that survival rates for teens and young adult cancer patients are favorable.

“Depending on the disease, about 75 percent of teen-aged cancer patients will be cured,” Dr. Matloub says.

And for parents who worry that their family member's bruise is a sign of cancer, it may help to know that cases of teen cancer are rare. Adolescents and young adults (AYAs) – or those aged 15 to 29 years old – make up only 2 percent of those with invasive cancers. According to Dr. Matloub, the most common types of cancers in the AYA age group are:

  • Lymphoma
  • Skin
  • Genital
  • Thyroid

Because adolescent and young adult cancer is rare, patients can sometimes feel isolated in the hospital.

“Oftentimes, what teenagers will tell you is that when they first get diagnosed, they’ll go to a clinic and find themselves mostly in the company of adults,” says Dr. Matloub. “They don’t relate to the older patients who have different diseases with different outcomes, and who are in a different stage of their life.”

That’s why it’s important for AYA patients to connect with other teens and young adults in similar situations and stages. To help deal with the social, emotional and psychological needs of AYA patients, University Hospitals established the Angie Fowler Adolescent & Young Adult Cancer Institute at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.

“It provides leading-edge medical treatment combining the expertise of pediatric and adult oncologists,” says Dr. Matloub. “The latter is essential in improving the outcome and quality of care for this population.”

As a parent, you also play a large role in advocating for and supporting your teenager, Dr. Matloub says. He offers these five ways you can help your child fight cancer successfully:

  1. Help your teenager keep an eye on the future. “Most of our patients do survive their disease and treatment, so they need to prepare for life after cancer,” he says.
    Discussing future plans gives your teen something to think about besides chemotherapy appointments or an upcoming surgery.
    “It gives them the signal and reassurance that they are going to survive,” Dr. Matloub says.
  2. Encourage your loved one to participate in support groups and outings with other AYA patients. “When teens are among their peers, they tend to bond and confide in each other in a way they don’t when they are with older adults,” he says.
    Getting out reminds your teen that there is life outside of his or her hospital room.
  3. Make sure the doctors are taking your teen’s future fertility options into consideration. When undergoing treatment, most teenagers are not thinking about whether they want to have children in the future. That’s why they need you in the room.
    “A lot of people who were treated when they were younger did not receive fertility preservation counseling, and years later they realized that they are not fertile,” Dr. Matloub says.
    There are processes that can be done to preserve fertility, so make sure you discuss these options with your child’s doctor before starting therapy.
  4. Seek support for yourself as well. Cancer affects the whole family. One of the worst things you can do is try to carry the burden all by yourself, says Dr. Matloub. Most hospitals and treatment centers provide various types of support for families as well as patients. It’s important, Dr. Matloub says, to take advantage of these services so you remain strong for your teen.
  5. Keep siblings in the loop. No matter how much you might want to shield them, siblings – even the young ones – know something serious is going on, says Dr. Matloub.
    “The more you explain to them – appropriately for their age – about what is going on, the less anxious and more accepting they become,” he says. It also makes them feel included and part of the family.
    Treatment centers offer support, guidance and a caring community, Dr. Matloub says, so patients and their families don’t have to go it alone.

The Angie Fowler Adolescent & Young Adult Cancer Institute at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital handles all new patient appointments by phone and can be reached directly by calling 216-844-3345. Learn more about Angie’s Institute.

Yousif (Joe) Matloub, MD, is a pediatric hematologist/oncologist and clinical director of the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Division at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. You can request an appointment with Dr. Matloub or any other doctor online.

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