Each year an estimated 70,000 adolescents and young adults are diagnosed with cancer. “It is really, really important to serve these patients because it affects their survival,” said Dr. April Depombo, a pediatrician hematology-oncology physician with Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.
The startling statistics are why Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida recently joined an initiative to help patients diagnosed with cancer between the ages of 15 and 29. “The AYA is the adolescent young adult program. It’s an initiative that was started many years ago. We are the only AYA program in the area, and we are the only one in a children’s hospital in Southwest Florida entirely,” explained Dr. Depombo.
Studies show AYA patients are better served in pediatric settings. “It’s this in-between age group that kind of falls through the cracks usually, because they are not young children and they are not older adults, and they also have some very special needs,” she said.
The AYA program caters to the patient’s cancer care, enrolls them in clinical trials, provides them with psychosocial support, and offers options to preserve their fertility. “We talk about sperm banking; we talk about egg and ovarian tissue cryopreservation. The procedures that they would go through and what it looks like to have their fertility preserved,” Dr. Depombo said.
Patients who qualify for clinical trials can participate through Golisano Children’s Hospital. “Enrolling patients on clinical trials is really, really important. Studies have shown, patients 15 to 19 there’s only about 10 percent enrollment rate and ages 20 to 39 there’s only about one percent of patients enroll,” she said.
The program helps patients adjust to life with cancer treatment. “This is a really big change going through a cancer diagnosis, and these patients are kind of in that in-between period. They are trying to go to school, maybe they have young families, maybe they just started their first job, maybe they’re in college, so this is a really large change,” Dr. Depombo said.The AYA program focuses on caring for every aspect of the patient from diagnosis to survivorship.