Saving lives: Young cancer patients and the future of research @ monkeybusinessimages

A recent report by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer revealed an unmet need to better understand how cancer manifests itself among adolescents and young adults. This could lead to better treatment options for current and future patients.

Dr. Annette Hay, senior investigator with the Canadian Cancer Trials Group and assistant professor of hematology at Queen’s University, discusses the importance of clinical trials for this patient population. She highlights the challenges researchers face in getting this valuable data that will help develop improved cancer treatments.

Why is there insufficient research on adolescent and young adult cancer in Canada?

One of the main reasons is low recruitment rates. In 2014, only 3.5 per cent of patients aged 15 to 29 who were receiving treatment at adult cancer centres in Ontario were enrolled in clinical trials.

What are the barriers to clinical trial recruitment?

There are several, both from a policy and systems standpoint. One of the main challenges is that while children are treated at specific pediatric centres, young adults are treated at various centres and often community hospitals. Young adults are often not made aware of clinical trial opportunities. We need to improve coordination between adult cancer care centres and hospitals with clinical trial programs to ensure that young cancer patients know about trials taking place so they have a chance to apply and participate.

We also need to streamline the process to allow both adult and adolescent patients to be studied under one trial. Previously, researchers had to submit separate applications for the study of a treatment on two different patient populations. This is changing in many provinces, as applications for both groups are being reviewed by Health Canada as well as the ethics review boards simultaneously. We need to work to ensure all provinces are following this improved process.

What do you want Canadians impacted by cancer to know about clinical trials?

Clinical trials are safe and highly regulated by Health Canada. It’s important for people to know that they are not “guinea pigs.” By participating in a trial, they could receive treatment and care that could not only prolong their lives, but could provide information that might help future generations.

Learn more about the 2017 Adolescents and Young Adult Cancer report at