Oncology Central

Young adults surviving cancer struggle to get back to normal

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Cancer survivors regularly discuss their hope and desire to get back to normal. However, a new longitudinal study published recently in Cancer, indicates that many young adults who have survived the disease struggle to reach this goal 2 years after their initial diagnosis; this study is among the first attempting to understand and analyze social functioning among young adults and adolescents who have had cancer.

“The research is important to help these young survivors better reintegrate into society,” explained study co-author Brad Zebrack (University of Michigan, MI, USA).

Zebrack and the team collected data from 215 cancer patients aged 14 –39 years old, who visited five medical facilities in the United States between March 2008 and April 2010. These patients completed self-report measure of social functioning within 4, 12 and 24 months following diagnosis. They also provided answers to questions regarding social interactions with family and friends, mental health and psychological needs.

32% of the survivors reported consistently low social function, even among those who had been off treatment. The researchers suggest that this could be as a result of the transition from treatment to off-treatment survivorship, a time in which cancer survivors faces a plethora of new challenges such as negative impacts on finances, work plans, body image, relationships with partners and plans for starting a family.

What is more, the study noted that those reporting low scores on social functioning also disclosed high levels of distress, potentially a reflection of an impaired ability to reintegrate in social activities as a result of the effects of the cancer.

“This finding highlights the need to screen, identify and respond to the needs of high-risk adult-young adolescent patients at the time of diagnosis and then monitor them over time,” commented Zebrack. “They are likely the ones most in need of help in managing work, school and potentially problematic relationships with family members and friends.”

Ongoing research suggests that young adult cancer patients benefit from support programs that put them in touch with their peers – young adults who have survived cancer.

“They do not find being in a support group with ‘people my grandma’s age’ to be all that helpful,” concluded lead author Olga Husson (Radboud University Medical Center, the Netherlands).

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