04 August 2017

The battle is never over for many young cancer survivors

It is often difficult for children and teenagers to resume a normal life in areas like school, work and relationships after cancer treatment.

Surviving cancer is a great thing, but it's only half the battle. We need to bear in mind that, especially in younger survivors, many challenges remain after the completion of treatment.

The struggle to get 'back to normal'

Many young cancer survivors have trouble resuming their social lives, research has found.

Researchers studied 215 cancer survivors between 14 and 39 years of age who completed questionnaires about their social functioning at four, 12 and 24 months after cancer diagnosis. About one in three reported low social functioning throughout the study period.

The researchers said the difficulties might stem from the transition from treatment to "off-treatment survivorship, a time fraught with challenges". Those challenges include the negative impact of their disease and treatment on finances, body image, work plans, relationships with a spouse or significant other and plans for having children.

Survivors with low scores on social functioning also had high levels of distress. The study "highlights the need to screen, identify and respond to the needs of high-risk adult-young adolescent patients at the time of diagnosis and then monitor them over time," said study co-author Brad Zebrack, a professor of social work at the University of Michigan.

How to resume a normal life

"They are likely the ones most in need of help in managing work, school and potentially problematic relationships with family members and friends," he said in a university news release. Research suggests young adult cancer patients benefit from support programmes that include similar-age survivors, the study authors said.

"They do not find being in a support group with 'people my grandma's age' to be all that helpful," lead author Olga Husson said in the news release. Husson is a researcher at Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands. The study was published online recently in the journal Cancer.

child with doctor

                                       Adequate, age-related support is crucial for young cancer survivors.

Importance of the right support system

The Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa) explains that a good support network is as important for survival as the treatment itself. Cansa also provides support structures especially designed for children and teenagers as they firmly believe that young people should not be facing cancer on their own. 

While emotional support is key, it is also crucial for parents of young cancer survivors to encourage a healthy and active lifestyle as soon as treatment is over and the child is starting to recover.

All images provided by iStock


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CANSA’s purpose is to lead the fight against cancer in South Africa. Its mission is to be the preferred non-profit organisation that enables research, educates the public and provides support to all people affected by cancer. Questions are answered by CANSA’s Head of Health Professor Michael Herbst. For more information, visit

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