Specialist cancer treatment units to be set up for people aged 16-24

Units in Dublin, Galway and Cork will specialise in adolescents and young adults

Three new national cancer treatment units for adolescents and young people are to be set up across Ireland, bringing together relevant experts to ensure more successful treatment and longer-term quality of life for young patients.

The new adolescent and young adult cancer units will be at St James’s Hospital in Dublin, University Hospital Galway and Cork University Hospital. They will deal with young people aged 16-24 suffering from cancer.

This was announced at a HSE press conference in Dublin on Thursday for a new framework for the care and support of adolescent and young adults with cancer in Ireland. It covers the period to 2026.

Every year in Ireland 180-190 people aged 16-25 are diagnosed with cancer. For children the figure is around 200.

Recent studies have shown that, while paediatric and older adult cancers have seen a large increase in survival rates, the same is not the case for some adolescent and young adult cancers. This has meant that cancers among young people have become an increased area of focus in the medical world.

Cancer is the leading cause of natural death in this age group, with about 30 per cent incidence of the disease blood-related. The incidence rates for germ cell tumours, sarcomas and Hodgkin’s lymphoma are also higher among such young people than among adults or children, and that incidence rate is rising overall among adolescents and young adults.

Unique needs

Studies have also shown a large increase in survival rates where child and older adult cancers are concerned, but not so for the cohort in between.

The framework document reported that it was now “widely accepted that traditional models of cancer care are not adequately meeting the needs of the [adolescent and young adult] AYA population. Many AYA patients do not feel comfortable in either paediatric or adult settings and they have a unique set of needs which are often not sufficiently met by either service.”

It said a “more tailored comprehensive multidisciplinary approach to the specific service needs of this population who are undergoing intensive physiological and psychosocial change during their cancer journey needs urgent consideration”.

The framework documents was “intended to be a starting point for setting the direction of AYA cancer services in Ireland”, it said.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the framework was intended to be “a starting point for setting the direction of AYA cancer services in Ireland. The landscape of healthcare in Ireland is changing and so must our efforts. We must continue to meet new challenges and strive to deliver on the needs of AYA patients.”

Prof Owen Smith, the national clinical lead for children, adolescent and young adult cancers at the National Cancer Control Programme, said such patients constituted “a unique group that deserves special attention”.

They were “a diverse group” by age and the distinct biology of their cancer but also “in terms of the challenges they face with regards to adequate access to age-appropriate oncological care.”