$40,000 Community Partner Grant from Tower Cancer Research Foundation Supports Launch of New Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Survivorship Program

Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Institute at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach and the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Medical Center are the recipients of a $40,000 Community Partner grant from the Tower Cancer Research Foundation to support the launch of a new Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Survivorship Program, which is made possible through a unique collaboration between the two institutes. The two hospitals share a campus allowing for easy collaboration between both oncology teams.

About 70,000 AYA cancer patients, aged 15 to 39 years, are newly diagnosed annually in the United States. Adolescent and young adults who have been treated for cancer are at risk for both medical and psychosocial health problems, called late effects.

These late effects can be life-threatening even after they have been cured from their primary cancer and can include secondary cancers later in life, cardiac and pulmonary problems. This population faces other unique problems, such as fertility challenges, school and work re-integration challenges and mental health issues. 

Many AYA patients get lost in the health care system due to multiple barriers as they transition to the survivorship phase. They may have been treated in the pediatric setting and are aging out or they may have challenges with insurance coverage. In addition, having access to providers that have expertise in the specific risks for late effects due to aggressive cancers treatment are often limited. 

“This program opens the door for both pediatric and adult oncologists to come together to focus on late-onset pediatric cancers and early-onset adult cancers,” says Milan Sheth, M.D., medical oncologist, MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute, Long Beach Medical Center. “The collaboration between our Institutes can improve outcomes by identifying the most effective treatment plan for each patient that address their physical, emotional and practical needs.”

Patients that receive care in this program receive a survivorship plan to support them through their late effects. Patients are seen by a multi-disciplinary team including a pediatric and adult oncologist, nurse practitioner and social worker during their follow-up appointments. If they develop secondary cancer, they have immediate access to a team that meets regularly to discuss their care.  

“This age group often gets left out of research studies, so they don’t have access to innovations that may improve both their survival and quality of life,” says Jacqueline Casillas, M.D., medical director, Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Institute, Miller Children’s & Women’s. “With our program, we can now serve as a resource for our region by offering research trials that can address specific treatments and cancer survivorship care for AYAs. In addition, we will also provide the critical resources for psychosocial support, including emotional support, school re-integration, workplace issues faced by cancer survivors.”

To achieve this, the two Institutes are developing a psychosocial mobile app. This mobile resource app is intended to be a useful tool for teaching young adults better financial and insurance habits — connecting them to financial counseling services — and can be an effective strategy for helping parents and teens connect to other personnel and provider services.