Thousands of young Israelis are diagnosed with cancer every year. However, in addition to dealing with a difficult illness, they also have to cope with unique, age-related needs. For the first time in Israel, Rambam Health Care Campus is operating a unique program that customizes cancer treatment for the needs of these young patients.
It is estimated that 10 young people aged 20–44 are diagnosed with cancer in Israel every day. In addition to coping with the disease itself, this group of patients is forced to deal with unique needs that are not always addressed by the existing medical system. To address these needs, a new service has been established at Rambam that focuses on providing special, supportive care tailored for cancer patients aged 45 and younger.
The primary reason for opening this service is worrying. According to the available data, there has been a significant increase in the incidence of cancer in young people up to age 50. "Every oncologist will tell you that in recent years, he has seen a lot of young patients," says Professor Irit Ben-Aharon, Director of Oncology at Rambam’s Joseph Fishman Oncology Center and founder of the new service, in an interview with Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper.
The unique program is now part of the standard treatment at the Joseph Fishman Oncology Center, providing a designated location for young patients in the infusion area, as well as a nurse who offers guidance and support to this patient population. The staff also includes a facilitator—who assists new patients with integration into the young community—together with counselors in specific areas such as fertility, sexuality, endocrinology, and so on. Although based in the Oncology Center, the service is provided in different parts of the hospital as needed.
The program is similar to those found in some cancer centers outside of Israel, though Rambam’s program is more comprehensive and not limited to a specific cancer type, and is designed to provide an intensive supportive environment for patients in all aspects. "Naturally, fertility is a critical issue when it comes to caring for young people," says Ben-Aharon. "There are studies demonstrating that dealing with fertility and discussing the need to preserve it before treatment begins gives these patients a lot of hope, because someone talks to them about the day after," she notes.
In order to find out exactly what they need, a council of patients was established, consisting mainly of cancer survivors whose role is to advise the management regarding which services will best serve younger patients during the treatment period. One topic currently under discussion is digital collaboration and support. "These patients behave differently than what we are accustomed to," says Ben-Aharon, adding, "We are talking about a very mixed population that does not take anything for granted. These are people who have something to say, who intervene and control therapeutic decisions, and we have to learn how to speak with them in their own language."
Young cancer patients present a treatment challenge to the medical community. "These patients are expected to have a long life expectancy after recovery, which may be accompanied by further future illness and various repercussions from the treatment they receive. The system that deals with them is obligated to provide them with holistic treatment, which includes a vision of coping in the present situation as well as in the future," explains Ben-Aharon.
Read the Yediot Ahronot article in Hebrew.