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Adolescent and Young Adult Treatment Program

Just because we’re a children’s hospital, that doesn’t mean we only treat little kids.

Pediatric cancers are cancers that are most often seen in children, but can also be diagnosed in adolescents and adults. The most effective way to treat pediatric cancers is with pediatric cancer protocols designed by doctors and nurses who specialize in treating those cancers. Oncologists and hospitals that normally only treat adult patients may not have the background or treatments available that teens and young adults with pediatric cancers need.

The Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s is one of the only pediatric cancer programs in the country with a dedicated program for teens and young adults. That means that because of our groundbreaking program, when a teen or young adult is diagnosed with a pediatric type of cancer, they get treatment from two types of oncology experts: one who specializes in their type of cancer and one who specializes in the needs of adolescents and young adults.

Specialized Expertise for Adolescents and Young Adults

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The Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Treatment Program brings together some of the country’s leading experts on adolescent and young adult cancer treatment with oncologists who specialize in treating pediatric cancers. Along with our cancer treatment experts, we also team with social, emotional and spiritual support caregivers, as well as physical therapists, dietitians and alternative medicine specialists to ensure that our young adults and teens get the care and support they need. We treat all adolescent and young adult patients with cancers including, but not limited to:

  • Leukemias (ALL, AML, CML)
  • Non-Hodgkins and Hodgkins lymphoma
  • Germ cell tumors
  • Osteosarcoma
  • Ewing’s sarcoma
  • Synovial cell sarcoma
  • Thyroid cancer
  • High grade astrocytomas
  • Brain and spinal cord tumors
  • Skin cancer

Treating teens and young adults with cancer is our passion.

The AYA Treatment Program at CHOC Children’s is made up of a multidisciplinary team of nationally recognized medical and surgical experts. Our AYA oncologists work with our cancer-specific treatment teams to help direct each patient’s treatment while also working directly with patients to help them navigate other important life issues that can be impacted by their treatment—like their ability to have children in the future, how to handle time away from school or work, relationships, body image and much more. We understand that teens and young adults have needs, rights and questions that are very different from our younger patients and work to provide a program and support unlike any other institution. The program is led by Leonard Sender, M.D. and Heather Hawthorne, M.D.

Dr. SenderDr. Leonard Sender is medical director for the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s and is board certified in pediatrics and pediatric hematology/oncology. He completed his fellowship at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and both his residency and internship at UC Irvine Medical Center. He received his medical training at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. Dr. Sender is very accomplished in treating teen and young adult patients. In fact, he is one of the few pediatric-trained oncologists in the nation who also works with adults. Dr. Sender is committed to improving care for AYA patients through advocacy and serving on the Stupid Cancer board of medical directors. He is also editor-in-chief of the Journal of Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology and founder of the Society for Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology.

Dr. HawthorneDr. Heather Hawthorne is clinical director of the Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Program at CHOC. She is board certified in pediatrics and pediatric hematology/oncology and completed her fellowship at University of Alabama-Birmingham. She completed a combined residency in internal medicine and pediatrics at the University of South Carolina’s Greenville Hospital System. Dr. Hawthorne received her medical training at the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to her passion for AYA, she specializes in treating patients with solid tumors and other rare cancers.

“Discovering you have cancer may be intimidating or overwhelming,” says Dr. Hawthorne, “but our team is here to support you during your journey. We encourage all patients to stay active and informed about their treatment and to stay connected with their friends and family while creating new bonds with other teens and young adults in the program. We know that your future is bright and that this journey will make you stronger.”

Learn more about our exceptional pediatric oncology-trained nurses, social workers, psychologists, nurse practitioners, child life specialists and case coordinators at the Cancer Institute.

Clinical Trials and Research

The experts at the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s are dedicated to providing the very latest treatments, engaging in research and advancing treatments both now and in the future.

Because pediatric cancers are very different than adult cancers, they must be treated with specific pediatric cancer protocols. Our experience in exclusively treating these cancers makes us the experts in the evaluation and treatment of all forms of common childhood and adolescent cancers. We are dedicated to administering the very latest pediatric cancer treatment options. A majority of our protocols come from the Children’s Oncology Group (COG), a national organization funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Our relationship with the COG makes us the only medical center in the southwestern United States offering COG Phase I clinical trials. We are also involved with the Therapeutic Advances in Childhood Leukemia & Lymphoma (TACL) consortium, which gives us access to the other groundbreaking Phase I clinical trial therapies.

Learn more about our ongoing research and the clinical trials available at the Cancer Institute.

AYA Patient and Family Resources

At CHOC, we stand by each patient’s side throughout treatment. From offering information on sensitive subjects to providing many of the comforts of home when patients are staying in the hospital, we work to help patients feel comfortable and empowered while undergoing treatment.

Straight Talk

Because teens and young adults often have sensitive questions about their treatments, we have created Straight Talk—an online collection of cancer-specific information aimed to answer questions on issues like fertility, sex, teen and young adults rights, and much more. Get the tough questions answered on our Straight Talk website.

AYA Surgery Guide

Preparing for a surgery or procedure can be stressful. While it may seem strange to have surgery at a “children’s hospital,” it is important to know that at CHOC, we’ve been treating teens and young adults since 1964 and understand the needs of our teen and young adult patients. We encourage all teen and young adult patients to read our AYA Surgery Guide that includes information and tips for patients who will be undergoing a surgical procedure. Read our AYA Surgery Guide.

Weekly AYA Events

Teens and young adults have many opportunities to stay busy, hangout and pursue a variety of hobbies and interests including cooking classes and art classes, AYA movie nights, fitness Fridays and much more.

Rock the Halls

Rock the Halls is a program that motivates our AYA patients to stay active and win prizes. Participating patients track each lap they complete around the unit, and the patient that walks the most laps each day receives a gift card.

Fifth Floor Teen Room

Located on same floor as our inpatient rooms, the teen room provides teens and young adults a place to read, play video games and watch movies, as well as computer access. It is a great place for patients to get away from their room to hang out with other patients their age.

Oncology Prom

An annual event that gives teen patients the opportunity to enjoy an important life event that they may have missed at their own schools because of cancer treatment

Hope Room

A resource room available to patients and their families featuring a computer and a range of educational materials designed to help families better understand diagnoses and treatments.

Psychosocial Services

In addition to providing innovative medical treatment and follow-up care, the AYA team also addresses the psychosocial needs of teens and young adults. Life is stressful enough and when cancer is thrown into the mix, it’s great to know that support is close at hand. The AYA program provides ongoing psychosocial services to help patients address issues related to self-image, relationships, sexuality, fertility, mental health, education and employment throughout every phase of treatment. It is important that our patients know that we truly understand their feelings and needs and are here to help them every step of the way.

The Comforts of Home

At CHOC, we are committed to providing a truly healing environment for our patients and families that includes special amenities that help the hospital feel like home both on the fifth at the Cancer Institute and on the second floor. Learn more about:

Other Resources for Teens, Young Adults and Their Families

From scholarships to camps to general health information, we have put together a comprehensive list of our favorite online resources for our patients, their friends and families. Learn more about the online sources we trust.

AYA Special Events

Understanding the Needs of Teens and Young Adults with Cancer

Preserving Fertility in Adolescent Cancer Patients
When treating children and teens with cancer at CHOC, physicians also have another health aspect in mind: patients’ future fertility.


Tools to Help Teens Take Control of Their Health Care
When it comes to health care matters, parents of teenagers must strike a delicate balance, especially when the teen is old or mature enough to make his own decisions.


Important Facts About Treating AYA Cancer Patients
The teen years are a time when adolescents develop their self-image, seek autonomy or independence from their parents, and deal with issues of emerging sexuality.


Living with a Chronic Illness
Growing up is tough enough for teens and young adults, but living with a chronic disease adds even more complications, a panel of CHOC Children’s patients tell CHOC Radio.


Helping Adolescents and Young Adults Cope with Cancer
There’s never a good time for a cancer diagnosis, but the teen and young adult years can be an especially tough time for cancer patients.


CHOC Teen Shares Her Positive Take On Beating Cancer
My name is Kenia Gonzalez and I am nineteen years old. I was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer when I was seventeen.


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UC Irvine

CHOC Children's is affiliated with the UC Irvine School of Medicine