Battling cancer – and winning – is just the beginning for survivors, especially those who beat cancer in their teens or young adult years. “Compared to children or older adults, cancer in adolescents and young adults has generally been overlooked in research globally, and that’s why I wanted to work with this group of cancer patients,” says Dr. Miranda Fidler-Benaoudia, Ph.D.
“Young cancer survivors have complex needs related to the challenges of being diagnosed with cancer during critical development, social, and reproductive years.”
The cancer epidemiologist is deeply passionate about improving cancer care for adolescent and young adult (AYA) survivors. She uses data linkages and questionnaires to understand the health and economic impacts of their experiences later in life, from chronic health issues and infertility to sexuality, premature ageing, delayed milestones and financial stability. This paves the way for new prevention strategies, supports, policies and care pathways.
“These individuals have decades of life ahead of them that may be affected by their cancer. That’s more time for things to happen. Anything we can do to help improve their lives and prevent adverse impacts – that’s immense,” she says.
Dr. Fidler-Benaoudia trained in the United States, the U.K. and France, including as a post-doctoral fellow with the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. She chose to join the Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute because of the strong commitment from Alberta Health Services and the University of Calgary to support adolescent and young adult (AYA) research and the unique opportunity to study more comprehensive patient data offered by Alberta’s single health authority.
“We are able to understand the full journey of the survivor through Alberta’s health care system. It’s a major opportunity to access big data and comprehensively understand these survivors’ needs during treatment and afterwards. This is an area of research that Alberta could lead in the country and world.” – Dr. Miranda Fidler-Benaoudia, Ph.D.
Plans to house AYA cancer research and clinical care all under one roof at the new Calgary Cancer Centre (CCC) will be the difference-maker, she says. Patients and survivors can meet up to support each other and participate in age-specific research, across all cancer types.
Opportunities to explore risk factors in this patient group at the CCC could help identify triggers for AYA cancer, which are less understood because it’s rare. This, as the number of teens and young adults newly diagnosed with cancer is growing. She’s excited for the opportunity to help young survivors own their cancers and the rest of their lives, by better tailoring care to the needs of this age group.