Adolescents and young adults with cancer fall into the gap

June 7, 2012 | by City of Hope Staff

Stats can be boring, but one amazing figure is today’s pediatric cancer survival rate. After a couple of decades, we’ve been able to turn a 20 percent survival rate on its head and, now, more than 80 percent of kids diagnosed with cancer are survivors. Most of these children are treated at specialized children’s cancer centers, where advanced treatments are developed.

Photo of young adult with cancerUnfortunately, though adolescent and young adult cancer patients are often treated using the same guidelines that have helped children, their survival rates haven’t improved like children’s rates have. Researchers at City of Hope wondered if access to care plays a role in the lag.

In a way, it might.

The researchers looked at how many adolescent and young adult patients received care at comprehensive cancer centers supported by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which is part of the National Institutes of Health. The NCI leads the way in the nation’s fight against cancer through research and education. There are 40 institutions in the U.S. designated by NCI as comprehensive cancer centers. These centers, including City of Hope, meet the NCI’s stringent standards for cancer prevention, clinical services and research.

City of Hope scientists studied data for more than 10,000 cancer patients diagnosed between ages 22 and 39 in Los Angeles County. The cases were reported to the Los Angeles County Cancer Surveillance Program between 1998 and 2008. They found that 87 percent of the patients treated at any of the three comprehensive cancers in the county survived for five years after diagnosis. That’s significantly higher than the 84 percent survival rate for those treated elsewhere.

They also found that overall five-year survival rates in adolescents and young adults with cancer were lowest in African-Americans, better among Latinos and best for non-Latino white patients. But survival rates were about the same across ethnic and racial groups for those treated at NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers. About 9 percent of the patients they studied received care at one of these centers.

The researchers are continuing their investigations into the barriers that may keep patients from turning to an NCI-designated center for treatment. They presented their results at the 2012 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting on June 4.

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