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From puberty to about age 25, adolescents and young adults respond differently to cancer treatment than younger children and older adults. Research shows that they metabolize medications differently, and their cancers are biologically different from similar cancers in other age groups. Even the types of cancer that affect young people are different.
Our Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Cancer Care Program specialists have been studying and treating cancer in this specific age group since these differences were first discovered, and we're still the only cancer care program in the region geared specifically toward teens and young adults. In fact, because of our experience, we're one of the leading programs of our kind.
But it's more than clinical experience that sets our AYA cancer program apart. We also know that cancer in this age group comes with unique psychological and social challenges. That's why our program is fully integrated with an array of supports: social workers and peer groups to offer guidance with coping, as well as physical and occupational therapy to help our patients maintain as much of their independence as they can.
Although adults as old as 25 and even older typically don't see pediatric specialists, the cancers that affect this age group — such as leukemia and bone sarcomas — tend to be more common in pediatrics. They're also rare: an adult oncologist might treat a handful of cases in an entire career.
At Children's Colorado's Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, we treat these cancers and only these cancers all day, every day. Our patient volume and experience makes us one of the best pediatric oncology, hematology and bone marrow transplant programs in the country, consistently ranked among the nation's top pediatric hospitals by both U.S. News & World Report and Parents magazine.
Not only do we have more experience than anywhere else in the region in treating these cancers, we're also the only center in the region that specifically addresses the treatment differences in pediatric cancers between teens and young adults and younger patients. Because these patients differ from our younger ones, we partner closely with UCHealth — our neighbor on the Anschutz Medical Campus — to make sure they get the best of both adult and pediatric worlds.
We partner with other pediatric programs across the nation to advance the standard of care through research. These partnerships, in addition to our volume and experience, make us a U.S. Food and Drug Administration Oncology Center of Excellence. This designation allows us to take part in clinical trials for cutting-edge treatments offered at only a handful of institutions around the country, and our partnership with UCHealth gives our patients access to many adult clinical trials as well — meaning our patients get the newest, most promising medicines, often before they're available anywhere else.
These treatments include many genetic and immunotherapies. In fact, we are currently developing CAR-T cells — patients' own immune cells genetically modified to fight cancer cells — which have achieved an astonishing 80 percent remission rate for acute lymphoblastic lymphoma in clinical trials. These novel cancer therapies often achieve excellent outcomes while minimizing side effects.
We also offer advanced diagnostics, developing increasingly precise testing for specific gene mutations within many types of pediatric cancers, allowing more targeted, personalized treatment than ever before.
We recognize that teens and young adults are in a stage of life that seeks independence, and that a potentially life-threatening cancer diagnosis is a blow to that independence. That's why we set each of our patients up with a one-on-one licensed social worker at diagnosis. This therapeutic professional offers a personalized reference point for all the resources we offer, from peer support groups to clinical psychologists to spiritual care.
Our patients also get access to our entire multidisciplinary care team: not just pediatric hematologists and oncologists, but radiologists; surgeons; oncology nurses; physical, occupational and speech therapists; nutritionists; specialized pharmacists and many more. When the course of treatment may affect patients' future ability to have children of our own, we partner with fertility endocrinologists to preserve fertility for family planning down the road.
We work closely with primary care physicians and even with many outside oncology providers where possible to make treatment easier for families who must travel. We believe our patients do best close to home, but we also offer a family navigator to help families make arrangements when they have to be here.
Our program treats primarily pediatric cancers in adolescents and young adults. Types of cancer we typically treat include:
We welcome consultations, questions and referrals. Call us at 720-777-6740.