May 01, 2017 9:00 AM

Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah and Intermountain Cancer Centers announce a new collaboration today designed to meet the needs of adolescents and young adults (AYAs) between the ages of 15 and 39 who have been diagnosed with cancer. Each year over 1,000 adolescents and young adults in Utah are diagnosed with cancer, yet research has shown a number of gaps in their care.

This age group faces different cancer-related challenges than children or older adults. Cancers in this age group are rare. As a result, patients are often diagnosed later, since many doctors don’t first suspect cancer in young adults when health symptoms arise. Patients in this age range also tend to be in an earlier career stage, or attending school. They might not have had a chance to save money. And if they haven’t started a family yet, they could face fertility issues once they begin cancer treatment.

“This time of life when adolescents and young adults are trying to build their independence can be hugely disrupted by a cancer diagnosis,” says R. Lor Randall, MD, co-leader of the HI-AYA Cancer Care Program and director of Sarcoma Services at HCI and Intermountain Healthcare’s Primary Children’s Hospital. “The financial impacts to a young adult with cancer can be devastating. Do they have a job with health insurance? Have they been at their job long enough for Family Medical Leave to kick in? These are some of the issues we hope to address with this program.”

Under the Huntsman-Intermountain Adolescent and Young Adult program (HI-AYA), a trained patient navigator, Sara Salmon, will connect AYA patients with information and resources to cover these gaps. Salmon will advocate to make sure patients understand how to navigate educational delays, career interruptions, and fertility issues.

“Chemo can affect a patient’s fertility the moment they start it,” Salmon explains. “But if the doctor doesn’t talk about it, the patient rarely knows to ask. So my role is to ask the patient if their doctor has addressed this issue before they start treatment – or inform them of financial grants to help them preserve their fertility. I can also teach them how to advocate for time off with college professors or explain that gap on their resume. And I can help patients deal with survivorship issues after they’ve received treatment, when they’ve gone back to work and look healthier, but their version of ‘normal’ has changed.”

For many young adults, a cancer diagnosis is their first real medical issue. Patients may suddenly have to learn the difference between a medical oncologist and a radiation oncologist. If they switch between doctors for surgery or treatment, knowing whom to call with questions can be confusing. Salmon can help patients navigate the medical system.

“I am the same person who will see them throughout their entire treatment and beyond,” Salmon explains. “After our first face-to-face meeting where I assess their needs and try to determine areas where they might need guidance, I check on them to make sure their care continues smoothly. I’m an extra person to help them brainstorm solutions to their age-specific problems. It’s my goal to help adolescent and young adult patients navigate this maze to receive the best health outcomes possible.”

Salmon has already met with a dozen patients. She is supported by a group of physicians across various disciplines from both HCI and Intermountain who specialize in treatment of adolescents and young adults. A panel of AYA cancer survivors and their loved ones will also provide input on how the program can better serve the adolescent and young adult community.

Carolyn Reynolds, APRN, HI-AYA co-leader and operations director of Intermountain Healthcare’s Pediatric Clinical Program, says, “The HI-AYA Cancer Care Program is one example of the ways that HCI and Intermountain Healthcare are collaborating to better meet the needs of cancer patients who live in Utah and throughout the Intermountain West. Connecting adolescents and young adults diagnosed with cancer to people and programs that can support them throughout their cancer diagnosis, treatment, recovery, and beyond is essential to improving their overall health.”

The HI-AYA Cancer Care Program is a free resource for all adolescent and young adult cancer patients between the ages of 15 and 39. Participants in the program may have been treated anywhere – even outside of HCI and Intermountain facilities. The program will serve people who live in Utah and the surrounding states in the Mountain West.

For more information about the HI-AYA Cancer Care Program, visit:

Media Contact

Heather Simonsen
Public Relations – Huntsman Cancer Institute
Email Us
801 581-3194

About Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah

Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah is the official cancer center of Utah and the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in the Mountain West. The campus includes a state-of-the-art cancer specialty hospital and two buildings dedicated to cancer research. Huntsman Cancer Institute provides patient care, cancer screening, and education at community clinics and affiliate hospitals throughout the Mountain West. It is consistently recognized among the best cancer hospitals in the country by U.S. News and World Report. The region’s first proton therapy center opened in 2021 and a major hospital expansion is underway. Huntsman Cancer Institute is committed to creating a diverse and inclusive environment for staff, students, patients, and communities. Advancing cancer research discoveries and treatments to meet the needs of patients who live far away from a major medical center is a unique focus. More genes for inherited cancers have been discovered at Huntsman Cancer Institute than at any other cancer center, including genes responsible for breast, ovarian, colon, head and neck cancers, and melanoma. Huntsman Cancer Institute was founded by Jon M. and Karen Huntsman.

Cancer touches all of us.

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