“Getting diagnosed with cancer at any age is a blow, but it’s particularly hard for someone just getting started in life and forced to put their dreams on hold,” explained Lisa M. DeAngelis, MD, MSK’s Physician-In-Chief. “A staggering 90,000 new cases in this age group are projected this year alone in the United States. MSK is already at the forefront in this field, treating over 5,000 of these younger patients each year. We are uniquely positioned to make a difference because we treat and research cancers in both adults and children.”
Why Aren’t Young People Benefiting as Much from Research?
The survival rate for children with cancer has improved greatly in the past three decades; but for adolescents and young adults, there hasn’t been as much progress. This vulnerable population faces a whole host of unique challenges, including delayed diagnoses and underrepresentation in clinical trials, which could lead to worse outcomes. When a young person is diagnosed with cancer, they can feel lost — too old for pediatrics but decades younger than most cancer patients. Teens and young adults often don’t have the right kind of support — beyond their families — to get them through the gauntlet of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation.
As colorectal and gastrointestinal cancer has been on the rise among people under 50, MSK created the first clinic of its kind in the world dedicated solely to the specific needs of patients under 50. MSK’s Center for Young Onset Colorectal and Gastrointestinal Cancer is just one program dedicated to the specific needs of this age range. MSK’s experts are also leading the charge on tailoring breast cancer treatments for young women in addition to helping them manage their physical and emotional needs.
“Supporting these patients so they not only survive cancer — but also live a life beyond it — is the reason that MSK created its Adolescent and Young Adult Program,” said Andrew Kung, MD, PhD, Chair of the Department of Pediatrics. “Researchers from across the institution have come together to identify best practices, clinical trial opportunities, and support services to best meet the needs of this unique population. Through the generous support of Lisa and Scott Stuart, we are able to dramatically expand these efforts and create a comprehensive clinical and research center that will transform the experience, care, and outcomes for this often-underserved group.”
A Personal Motivation
This center is made possible through the transformative generosity of Scott Stuart, Chair of MSK’s Boards of Trustees and Governing Trustees, and his wife, Lisa. The Stuart family experienced first-hand what a cancer diagnosis means to a teenager — and their family — when their daughter underwent grueling but successful treatment at MSK for non-Hodgkin lymphoma after being diagnosed at 12 years old. Nearly 20 years later, she has fulfilled her childhood dream of becoming a doctor, graduating from Harvard Medical School, and is now pursuing a career in oncology.
“These patients have not benefited as much from recent advances as those who are younger or older than they are. We must understand why and do better. This is the mission of the new Lisa and Scott Stuart Center for Adolescent and Young Adult Cancers,” Mr. Stuart said. “We know first-hand that MSK experts are committed to driving change and improving the outlook for adolescents and young adults, not only at MSK but nationally and internationally.”
The Stuart Center will be led by William Tap, MD, Chief of the Sarcoma Medical Oncology Service, and Julia Glade Bender, MD, Vice Chair for Pediatric Clinical Research. Services offered, tailored for this specific population, will include expanded access to clinical trials for adolescents and young adults; family planning and fertility specialists; personalized medicine; and the use of apps and social media.
Expanding Clinical Trials
Adolescents and young adults have been historically underrepresented in clinical trials. While clinical trials for “adult” cancers have required patients to be 18 or older, trials for “pediatric” cancers often stop at age 18 or 21. Patients who are neither children nor older adults can get caught in a gap between the two. The Stuart Center will not only be focused on developing more trials for adolescents and young adults, but it is committed to making it easier for these patients to learn about and enroll in these trials — regardless of whether their primary doctor cares for children or adults.
Cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery can affect fertility in both young women and men. Adolescents and young adults who are diagnosed with cancer face numerous hurdles, but the experts at MSK’s Cancer and Fertility Program will work with patients at the Stuart Center to create a personal plan that considers their medical and financial needs and helps connect them with the right fertility service provider, allowing these patients a chance to focus on a future beyond their diagnoses.
As pioneers in precision medicine, experts at MSK know that for tailoring cancer treatment, biology matters more than your birthday. The best treatments target the exact molecular aspects of a tumor, regardless of the age of a patient. In some cases, adults should be treated with pediatric regimens and vice versa. The Stuart Center will ensure that all patients benefit from the combined expertise of physicians and researchers across MSK who will determine the best treatment for each individual patient.
In order to reach this generation of patients, the Stuart Center plans to harness technology in new ways — teaching, treating, and supporting patients. The program will be one of the first to run digital clinical trials for adolescents and young adults. Patients will work with a team of specialists to create a plan beyond medical treatment to care for the whole person, with counseling, nutrition, exercise, and family planning through the use of apps, social media, and more. In addition, the Lounge at MSK App offers individuals the opportunity to connect with other young adults in treatment and beyond, ask questions to peers and MSK clinicians, find resources and events on a safe and protected social media platform.
About Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK):
As the world’s oldest and largest private cancer center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has devoted more than 135 years to exceptional patient care, influential educational programs, and innovative research to discover more effective strategies to prevent, control and, ultimately, cure cancer. MSK is home to more than 20,000 physicians, scientists, nurses, and staff united by a relentless dedication to conquering cancer. Today, we are one of 51 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers, with state-of-the-art science and technology supporting groundbreaking clinical studies, personalized treatment, and compassionate care for our patients. We also train the next generation of clinical and scientific leaders in oncology through our continually evolving educational programs, here and around the world. Year after year, we are ranked among the top two cancer hospitals in the country, consistently recognized for our expertise in adult and pediatric oncology specialties. www.mskcc.org.