Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology Center to link cancer knowledge

June 7, 2010

Cancer at any age is tragic, but it’s especially difficult for children. But at what age are cancer patients no longer children? When should they be treated as "adult" cancer patients? Should a 17-year-old dealing with leukemia be treated as an adult on his 18th birthday? Or should he be given the same treatments as an eight-year-old with the same disease? And, perhaps as importantly, does leukemia behave the same way in a teen as in a child or a 38-year-old?

These are the questions that drive one of the Health Science Center’s newest faculty members, Karen Albritton, MD, director of Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Oncology at the UNT Health Science Center. Albritton is a pioneer in the emerging specialty of AYA Oncology, recognized by the National Cancer Institute as the field focusing on the science and care of those diagnosed with cancer between age 15 and 40. The specialty had its start in the early part of the last decade, when reviews of clinical trial results in seven different countries, 64 percent of acute leukemia patients age 16-21 who were treated as pediatric patients experienced successful outcomes, versus 38 percent who were treated as adults. The fact that the same results were replicated seven times is astounding.

Albritton believes these findings indicate that cancers in young adults will not respond to treatment the same as cancer in children or older adults. She hopes to learn if the reasons relate to tumor biology differences, drug protocols, service delivery, support networks or other reasons. Because the answers are both about clinical care and basic science, Albritton will bring together researchers at the Health Science Center clinicians at Cook Children’s Hospital Network and community cancer organizations throughout the North and West Texas regions to establish the North Texas AYA Oncology Center. As a resource for researchers, families and physicians caring for young people with cancer, the AYA Oncology Center will serve as both a repository of information, facilitator of research and brain trust for medical oncology groups serving the major health care providers in the region.

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