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, Dr. Leonard Sender says. Keeping that in mind with young cancer patients, he explains, “We try to understand and not downplay the issues of self-esteem and body image. We make sure we are talking to the patients and not just their parents. No one likes to lose his or her hair, for instance. For a young girl who is 13, 14 or 15, we realize this can be quite catastrophic.”
EMOTIONAL AND SPIRITUAL CONCERNS
“A teen’s peers are really important too, so we try to keep them involved. Peer support helps,” says Dr. Sender. “We have social workers and nurses that talk to the patients. We try to make sure we are listening to them. We’ve taken them out of their normal routine, their school and peer relationships, and they lose control.” Patients may also enlist support from a religious leader of their chosen faith if they would like. “We respect all religions and people’s faith and how they cope,” Dr. Sender says.
TEEN CANCER PATIENTS ARE UNIQUE
Social and peer acceptance; career and education considerations; and the desire for independence are among issues to be considered when helping the adolescent cancer patient. It’s important for everyone involved in the patient’s care to consider these factors to better understand how the teen will respond to therapy, the hospital and possibly being in a clinical trial, says Dr. Sender, who noted that fewer teens and young adults nationwide participate in pediatric clinical trials compared to younger children. To help better connect teen cancer patients with their school and peers, CHOC is participating in a research project with UC Irvine that will place a robot in an Orange County classroom — connected to a CHOC patient by a computer — so the patient can interact with classmates and have an improved sense of normalcy. Dr. Sender says researchers hope to learn whether the robot keeps the patient better engaged with peers at school.
- Estimated number of cancer deaths that will occur this year in children from birth – 19: 1,960
- Estimated number of new cancer cases that will be diagnosed this year in the U.S. in children ages birth-19: 15,780
- Percentage of overall 5-year survival rate for childhood cancers: 80%