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Young Adults Often "Forgotten Individuals" In Cancer Research

A summit focused on teen cancer explored innovations in the field, and focused on why more research is needed for this age group [Anna Huntsman / ideastream].
Sign outside cancer conference

An annual conference on cancer care in Cleveland is focusing this year on how the medical community needs to develop new ways to treat younger patients.

The two-day Innovators in Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer symposium at Case Western Reserve University brought together researchers, patients and parents to find out more about the latest innovations.

The organizers are hoping to raise awareness in the medical community that traditional cancer care is not always designed for people in their teens and early twenties.

 “Although we're all sympathetic about every person with a cancer and maybe particularly a child with a cancer, that teenager and 22 year old is often that forgotten individual,” said Dr. Stan Gerson, the director of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Cancer in an adolescent often looks different than it does in an older individual, said Dr. John Letterio, director of University Hospitals Angie Fowler Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Institute.

It can be difficult for people in their 20’s when they are sent to a children’s cancer doctor for treatment, he said.

“It’s not exactly an environment where you would expect to see yourself getting medical care,” Letterio said.

Cancer in younger patients can also manifest in different ways than it does in older adults, said Gerson. Hormonal changes can make cancer cells develop much faster in teens.

“All of a sudden, cells get exposed to growth stimulants that they never saw before. So that’s why this age group is so different,” he said.

As people get older the cells in their body often slow down, he said.

”So the types of tumors that older folks get is so different than that of young adults,” Gerson said.

That’s why more attention and funding are needed for teen cancer research, he said.

Some strides have been made already, though, said Elana Simon, a biomedical researcher who was diagnosed with a rare liver cancer at the age of 12.

 “I think over the last decade people have come to appreciate that there's a lot more nuance in how they categorize and treat different diseases,” Simon said.

Simon, one of the conference keynote speakers, noted it is dangerous to ignore those nuances.

“If you have a child with liver cancer, it's much less likely going to be due to liver cirrhosis or alcohol,” she said, “so clumping the two together can be very confusing and create potentially inaccurate diagnoses or treatment plans.”

The meeting kicked off on Thursday and continues until 4 p.m. Friday.



Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.