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Providing Vital Support: The HIAYA Cancer Care Program

Read Time: 3 minutes

Ana Inestrillas and her family
Ana Inestrillas and her family

Ana Inestrillas was diagnosed with endometrial cancer during fertility treatments at the University of Utah hospital. Now, she looks back on her fertility treatments with mixed emotions. While the treatments were hard, she is grateful that they were able to catch her cancer.

Ana, now 39, wishes she knew about the Huntsman-Intermountain Adolescent and Young Adult (HIAYA) Program when she was first diagnosed.

“Receiving a cancer diagnosis at 37 brought up many emotions, like anxiety, shock, and grief. I am a wife and a mother to a young child who needs me,” says Inestrillas.

Patient Navigators

Individuals dealing with a cancer diagnosis can benefit from help navigating a tricky healthcare system.

Huntsman Cancer Institute has many patient navigation programs to choose from:

The HIAYA program specifically focuses on patients between the ages of 15 and 39. These patients often face unique challenges which disrupt major life milestones, like graduation, marriage, a first job, and starting a family. This program, founded in 2016, is successful thanks to the collaboration between many healthcare organizations to ensure patients are supported throughout their care journeys.

Cancer on the Rise

In a study published in Nature Journal, researchers have found an increase of cancer diagnoses in people under the age of 50 in several countries.

Researchers are seeing an increase in many different types of cancer in young adults:

Researching Cancer in Young Adults

Neli Ulrich, PhD, MS
Neli Ulrich, PhD, MS

While increased access and participation in cancer screening may contribute to part of the rise, many physicians and researchers are looking into other reasons these cancers are becoming more common.

Researchers like Neli Ulrich, PhD, MS, chief scientific officer and executive director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Huntsman Cancer Institute, Jon M. and Karen Huntsman Presidential Professor in Cancer Research in the Department of Population Health Sciences at the University of Utah (the U), study colorectal cancer, specifically the role that the gut microbiome plays in this diagnosis.

According to the American Cancer Society, adults under the age of 55 are being diagnosed with colorectal cancer twice as often as 10 years ago. Colorectal cancer is now the leading cause of cancer death for men younger than 50.

“There are many things that we as researchers are looking into when it comes to this increase in cancer, like stress, exercise, the food we eat, and even using devices like computers on our laps,” says Ulrich. “We do not have any answers yet, but it is important to eat nourishing foods, exercise, and talk to your doctor about any changes you feel in your body.”

Sachin Apte, MD, MS, MBA
Sachin Apte, MD, MS, MBA

Sachin Apte, MD, MS, MBA, chief clinical officer, physician-in-chief at Huntsman Cancer Institute, and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the U, is also seeing an increase in young patients in his clinic—patients like Ana. He hypothesizes that factors like increased estrogen and obesity may be contributing to the trend.

“I see a lot of young people in my practice that are listening to their bodies and have access to information that previous generations didn’t have access to. I see this as a strength and think that we have a group of people taking care of themselves and seeking treatment when something is off,” says Apte.

Inestrillas echoes Huntsman Cancer Institute’s physicians and researchers, encouraging young adults to keep up on their screenings.

“It is easy to procrastinate. We are busy, and going to the doctor may be the last thing we want to do. A lot of these AYA cancers can be treated when you catch them early enough,” says Inestrillas.

Learn more about cancer screening.

Cancer touches all of us.