A new effort led by a UC Irvine oncologist seeks to improve cancer survival rates for adolescents and young adults. Dr. Leonard S. Sender has long advocated changing the approach oncologists take with patients and survivors between 15 and 39. Now he and like-minded colleagues have launched the Journal of Adolescent & Young Adult Oncology, a peer-reviewed publication with Sender as editor-in-chief that focuses attention on this underserved population. It’s the official journal of the newly formed Society for Adolescent & Young Adult Oncology.

“This age group has been neglected. There haven’t been advances in their survival rate in more than 20 years. They’ve hit a plateau,” said Sender, medical director of clinical operations at UC Irvine’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. “To truly advance care for this population, adolescent and young adult oncology must be recognized as a distinct subspecialty, with a professional organization and publication to support it.”

Seventy thousand adolescents and young adults in the U.S. are diagnosed each year with the types of cancer that usually afflict this age category, such as leukemia and thyroid, testicular and ovarian cancer. The medical profession, Sender said, tends to divide them into two groups: children and adults over 50, who often face colon, prostate, breast, lung and other common cancers. The consequences of not treating them as a distinct group can be deadly.

Many oncologists treat these individuals as they would older adults, who can’t tolerate the higher, more frequent doses of chemotherapy.

“They don’t understand this unique category of patients,” said Sender, who is also medical director of the Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s Hospital. “Their treatment is less aggressive than they can handle. If we could raise awareness of that, survival rates could improve.”

He’d like to see more research devoted to adolescent and young adult cancers and noted that such patients have different emotional and social issues than children and older adults.

“This is the most exciting time in a person’s life, when they’re learning to be independent, and suddenly it’s interrupted with a cancer diagnosis,” Sender said. “For them, it can easily mean the end of a relationship. They often have to put college on hold, lose their jobs and can’t get insurance.”

About UC Irvine Medical Center: Orange County’s only university hospital, UC Irvine Medical Center offers acute- and general-care services at its new, 482,000-square-foot UC Irvine Douglas Hospital and is home to the county’s only Level I trauma center, American College of Surgeons-verified regional burn center and National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center. U.S. News & World Report has included UC Irvine for 10 consecutive years on its list of America’s Best Hospitals, giving special recognition to its urology, gynecology, and ear, nose & throat programs.

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