We at the Knight Cancer Institute AYA Oncology Program at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) are deeply honored and excited to be named the first Center of Excellence by the Change It Back AYA Cancer Alliance, a program of the Health Care Rights Initiative. This designation reflects OHSU’s ongoing commitment to improve outcomes and quality of care for adolescent and young adult patients, or AYAs.
As Change It Back explains, these are the people who should be out laughing, loving, crying, hugging, traveling, eating, falling in love… living their lives. We get that. The people involved in the OHSU AYA Oncology Program and the services we facilitate are aligned with the idea of supporting that young adult life through the cancer experience.
In the OHSU AYA Oncology Program we say that cancer doesn’t care how old you are, but we do! Our idea is to bring services to AYAs with cancer that address what is different about having cancer as a young adult. We strive to study of the biology and psychology of the young adult with cancer, defined as a patient between the ages of 15 and 39, to adapt therapies to maximize response based on age, and engage young adults and their supporters throughout care and follow-up. We believe that this is the approach that will improve the outcomes and quality of life for these AYA patients.
To earn this designation, the AYA Oncology Program demonstrated that we have acted to translate ideas into action by facilitating services to AYAs with cancer along these five domains:
- Fertility counseling
- Health insurance and financial counseling
- Clinical trial education and facilitation
- Psychosocial support
- Transition to surveillance and survivorship services
Many of the efforts of OHSU’s AYA Oncology program have been considered innovative, including:
- Bringing AYA-aged peer “ambassadors” to patients’ bedsides
- Distributing what we call fertility toolkits to each cancer ward and clinic that provide information about fertility preservation
- Partnering with outdoor adventure companies for patient retreats
- Embedding AYA-directed policies in our institutional review board IRB) submission process, which is how we monitor research programs, as well as our Cancer Committee reviews, and many more processes.
But it has been said that innovations are often ideas, not just things. We are proud of OHSU’s AYA cancer services, but we are equally proud of the unique culture we have fostered towards serving AYAs with cancer at OHSU. It is the AYA-relevant attitude we share and behavior we model that is also being recognized with this Center of Excellence award, and for that it is the people of the AYA Oncology Program who deserve hearty congratulations.
Brandon Hayes-Lattin, MD is a board certified oncologist specializing in blood cancers and stem cell transplants. He established and is the Medical Director of the Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology Program. As a cancer survivor himself, Dr. Hayes-Lattin is in a unique position to empathize with and understand the needs the young patients he treats.