New clinic focuses on those aged 15 to 30 with blood cancers

November 26, 2012

Filling a gap in cancer care, the University of Chicago Medicine has launched the Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology Program, which draws together physicians and researchers from multiple medical and scientific fields to cross the boundaries between pediatric and young adult patients with leukemia and lymphoma.

Headed by pediatric and adult cancer experts and supported by social workers and counselors, this new program, for patients aged 15 to 30, makes multiple resources available in a single stop at the Comer Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Diseases at the University of Chicago Medical Center in Hyde Park. The program is one of only a handful in the country specifically designed for this age group.

"The program centralizes care in one place, where patients can receive additional support services," said Wendy Stock, MD, professor of medicine and co-director of the Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology Program. "We are able to boost the psycho-social support dramatically, which is crucial for this age group."

Unlike children, who gladly accept the benefits of having a family close by to support them, "young adults are often independent from their parents and without partners or spouses," Stock said, "so their support system for facing the years of challenging treatment ahead may be inadequate. They need support from us to help them gain independence through their treatment."

In this program, physician-scientists whose studies have helped to improve the treatments for young patients with leukemia and other cancers work together to tailor protocols and services to the needs of each patient.

In the program's new, state-of-the-art outpatient clinic and infusion suite, leukemia, lymphoma and stem cell transplantation experts collaborate with specialists in fertility, gynecology and psychiatry to provide comprehensive solutions for patients and conduct research. They optimize treatment for young adults by:

  • Offering clinical trials targeted to this specific age group
  • Bringing together adult and pediatric hematologists and oncologists
  • Giving emotional support tailored to young adults
  • Referring patients for fertility counseling when needed
  • Supporting and monitoring patients to aid them with treatment compliance
  • Assisting patients with insurance
  • Helping patients experience a life not limited by their diagnosis

Core physicians on the team include medical oncologist Wendy Stock, MD and pediatric oncologist Jennifer McNeer, MD, MS, co-directors of the University of Chicago AYA Oncology Program; John Cunningham, MD, section chief, pediatric hematology/oncology/stem cell transplantation; Sonali Smith, MD, director of the University of Chicago lymphoma program; and Tara Henderson, MD, MPH director of the University of Chicago childhood cancer survivors center.

Additional specialists include geneticist Kenan Onel, MD, PhD, director of the pediatric familial cancer clinic; David P. Cohen, MD, PhD, chief of reproductive endocrinology and infertility; Melissa Gilliam, MD, MPH, professor of obstetrics/gynecology and pediatrics and chief of family planning; and Niranjan Karnik, MD, PhD, psychiatric services.

"Our hope is that sharing different perspectives and expertise in pediatrics and the adult world will provide us with a more comprehensive and effective treatment of these cancers," Stock said.

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Tiffani Washington
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