Adolescents and teenagers with cancer face unique treatment challenges and require a different level of support than young children or adults. Many teens with cancer fall within an ambiguous age range between cancer treatment programs designed for children and those which are appropriate for adults, a factor which adds to the challenges of diagnosing and treating teens with cancer.
As young adults, teenagers are less likely than children to receive opportunities to participate in advanced clinical trials/research studies. Although the teenage years are considered a transition to adulthood, research has demonstrated that for certain kinds of cancer, adolescent patients achieve better treatment outcomes when they are treated at pediatric hospitals.
TEEN REACTIONS TO CANCER DIAGNOSIS
The responses of a teen/adolescent to a cancer diagnosis can differ significantly from those of younger patients, because they are facing challenges that are unique to patients in their age range. Adolescent cancer patients may feel:
- Distraught about the disruption of school and missing out on social activities with friends—teens with cancer are often forced to sacrifice pivotal events (i.e. prom, dating, sports, social gatherings) while stuck in the confines of a hospital enduring painful cancer treatments
- Intense emotional responses as they struggle to process what they are experiencing and how their cancer will impact their future
- Frustration that their illness has imposed physical limitations on their newly-found independence
- In need of unwavering support from friends, family members, and school contacts
- The urge to rebel against invasive treatments, or the restrictions placed upon them by parents and doctors
- Confusion about the meaning of life and the long-term effects cancer may have on their identity
- Inclined to make light of their cancer, joking about their illness in order to distract from the gravity of the situation
- Pressured to stay upbeat and positive in order to prevent family members from worrying
- More likely to take risks that could cause health problems
- Concern about missing school and what this will mean for their education and future college/career prospects
DEALING WITH TREATMENT SIDE EFFECTS
Handling the natural physical changes and hormone fluctuations of adolescence can be very difficult for any teenager. This challenge is significantly magnified for teens battling cancer, who must also attempt to cope with the harsh emotional, aesthetic, and health-related side effects associated with cancer treatments.
- Although steroids are a crucial component of many cancer treatment protocols, this medication is known for causing weight gain, fullness in the cheeks, and the accumulation of fatty tissue at the back of the neck.
- Additional aftereffects of teen cancer treatments often include: nausea, vomiting, mouth sores, diarrhea, constipation, fever/chills, skin problems, and hair loss.
- Many teen cancer survivors suffer from long-term illnesses and side effects (“late effects”) during adulthood as a direct result of the cancer treatments they received as adolescents.
The chronic discomfort and unwelcome physical changes associated with many life-saving cancer treatments can take a significant toll on an adolescent cancer patient’s already fragile self-esteem and confidence levels, which is why it is so important to equip these teens with the necessary information and resources to help them better understand and process the effects of their illness.
The American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) understands that teens battling with cancer (and teen cancer survivors) have concerns and needs that are specific to their age range (13-17). Below you will find free resources developed by the ACCO, specifically with the needs of this age group in mind:
Additionally, there are a variety of other support networks and informational sites dedicated solely to teens/adolescents with cancer:
- TEENS HEALTH CENTER
- Look Good Feel Better: Non-medical public service site helping teens cope with the social and emotional impacts of cancer
- SCHOLARSHIP OPPORTUNITIES FOR TEEN CANCER SURVIVORS:
- Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults National College Scholarship Program
- Cancer Survivor’s Fund
- The Patient Advocate Foundation’s Scholarships
- Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation Scholarship Program: For brain tumor survivors
- The Stephen T. Marchello Scholarship Foundation: For residents of Colorado and Montana
- Article: From Behind a Cancer Teen’s Eyes
- Article: Tips for Teens
- Taking Charge: A resource for teens and young adults
- Taking Charge – For Friends: A resource for friends of teen and young adult cancer patients