Adolescents and young adults (AYA) with cancer are recognized as a distinct age group who possess unique medical and psychosocial needs. AYA must undergo cancer treatments while also attempting to accomplish central developmental tasks, including identity development, establishing autonomy from parents, planning for educational/work goals, spending time with friends, and navigating intimate relationships. At times, the developmental strivings of adolescence pose challenges to managing cancer symptoms and treatments from home. Medical adherence, or compliance with medical recommendations, is key for optimal treatment outcomes. Unfortunately, preliminary investigations suggest that up to 50% of AYA do not follow prescribed cancer regimens.
The elevated burden and stress associated with a cancer diagnosis also poses challenges to family functioning. Families of youth with cancer are at-risk for family interaction difficulties, conceivably due to the changing roles and expectations of the family members and the increased medical demands for caring for cancer. During the AYA period, family dynamics and cancer management are further complicated by increased AYA responsibility for health, independent of parental influence. However, the complex relationships between family dynamics and AYA adherence to cancer treatment demands is unknown.
Researchers at the Center for Childhood Cancer Research, including Alexandra M. Psihogios, PhD, are collecting data on AYA adherence to cancer treatments to help identify ways that families and doctors can help AYA follow medical recommendations, such as taking pills, attending clinic appointments, and completing dressing changes.
Investigators are conducting a quantitative and qualitative (mixed-method) study on family functioning factors that promote medical adherence among AYA patients on active cancer treatment. This study will inform family-based intervention programs designed to promote medical adherence. The long-term goal of this research is to improve the medical outcomes and general health of AYA patients.