Teen cancer patients may benefit from more support

Liza-Marie Johnson, MD

Liza-Marie Johnson, MD

Teens and young adults with cancer have experienced more death, particularly of friends, than their healthy peers. But recent St. Jude research shows that many of the patients rarely, if ever, talk about their losses.

Eighty percent of St. Jude patients surveyed in a recent study had experienced the death of a relative, friend or someone else. Sixty-one percent had experienced multiple losses through death. Thirty-seven percent of the patients had lost friends, with two-thirds related to cancer.

Researchers found that about a third of the patients had rarely or never talked to anyone else about their losses.

“This private, often unrecognized grief may make it more difficult for patients to process or make meaning of a death,” said Liza-Marie Johnson, MD, of St. Jude Oncology. “It also leaves them at increased risk for depression, anxiety and other problems.”

Johnson said the results highlight the need for long-term studies to understand and support adolescents and young adults who are going through bereavement while coping with life-threatening illnesses.

A report on this research appeared in the journal PLOS One.

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