Understanding Causes of Inferior Outcomes in Adolescents and Young Adults With Cancer

Authors:
Julie A. Wolfson Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama
Institute for Cancer Outcomes and Survivorship, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama

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Kelly M. Kenzik Department of Surgery, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts

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Blake Foxworthy Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama

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John M. Salsman Department of Social Sciences and Health Policy, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina

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Katherine Donahue Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, Children’s National Medical Center, Washington, DC

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Marie Nelson Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, Children’s National Medical Center, Washington, DC

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Mary Beth Littrell Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama

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Grant R. Williams Institute for Cancer Outcomes and Survivorship, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama
Division of Hematology-Oncology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama

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Jennifer M. Levine Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, Children’s National Medical Center, Washington, DC

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Individuals diagnosed with cancer as adolescents and young adults (AYAs; ages 15–39 years) face unique vulnerabilities. Compared with individuals diagnosed when younger (≤14 years) or older (≥40 years), AYAs have not seen the same improvement in survival. Furthermore, they sit at a complex moment of social, emotional, and cognitive development, and have a unique interface with the healthcare system. With these observations, NCI prioritized addressing the unique vulnerabilities among AYAs with cancer, and NCCN developed guidelines regarding optimal AYA cancer care. Improvements in certain locales have been seen in the wake of this focus on AYAs, suggesting that continuing to consider AYA outcomes in the context of their specific needs is critical as we strive toward additional improvements. However, it is key to consider the drivers of these outcomes to continue this trajectory. This review presents a holistic conceptual model that includes factors that influence outcomes among AYAs with cancer, including domains in these levels that influence both clinical outcomes (such as relapse and survival) and health-related quality of life (HRQoL). These include domains at the patient level, such as social constructs (race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status), behavior (adherence, risk-taking), biologic characteristics (cancer biology, host genetics), medical treatment (treatment regimen, risk-based survivorship care), and treatment-related toxicities. The model also includes domains at the system level, which include treatment location (NCI designation, facility model, AYA program presence), clinical trial enrollment, transdisciplinary communication, fertility preservation, and psychosocial support. Recognizing these multiple factors at the level of the individual and the healthcare system influence AYA outcomes (from HRQoL to survival), it is key not only to consider patient-level interventions and development of novel cancer agents but also to develop systems-level interventions that can be executed in parallel. In this way, the impact can be expanded to a vast number of AYAs.

Submitted March 27, 2023; final revision received June 27, 2023; accepted for publication June 29, 2023.

Disclosures: The authors have disclosed that they have no financial interests, arrangements, affiliations, or commercial interests with the manufacturers of any products discussed in this article or their competitors.

Correspondence: Julie A. Wolfson, MD, MSHS, Institute for Cancer Outcomes and Survivorship, University of Alabama at Birmingham, 1600 7th Avenue South, Lowder 500, Birmingham, AL 35233. Email: jwolfson@uabmc.edu
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