Momentum Builds to Reshape Young Adult Cancer Care @ BC Cancer Summit

Graphic recording by Melissa Kendzierski

It was the opportunity we’d been waiting and planning for – the chance to bring young adults with lived experience with cancer together with clinicians, care supporters and researchers to share about the unique realities of young adult cancer and identify tangible actions to improve care for young adults in BC.


From November 24-26, 2022, the Anew Research Collaborative at Royal Roads University hosted an engagement session in partnership with BC Cancer at the BC Cancer Summit held November 24-26, 2022, in Vancouver. The Summit is BC Cancer’s annual conference providing opportunity for clinical, research and supportive care teams to share new knowledge and developments at the cancer care forefront. A near equal mix of 70+ care providers and young adults with lived experience with cancer took part in our interactive hybrid session (in-person and online) entitled Reshaping Young Adult Cancer Care.


Young Adult Cancer Facts

Dr. Cheryl Heykoop, Anew research lead and Program Head of Royal Roads University Master of Arts of Leadership – Health Specialization, co-hosted the session with BC Cancer medical oncologist and young adult advocate, Dr. Alannah Smrke. They shared details on promising developments in young adult cancer care and often little-known facts about young adult cancer care:

  • The medical and psychosocial needs of young adults are different.
  • Survival rates for young adults have not seen the same improvements as pediatric and older adult populations.
  • Young adults often have limited access to clinical trials. 
  • In Canada, only 0.4% of cancer research funds are focused on young adult cancer. 
  • There is a Canadian framework for young adult cancer care, yet there is no young adult cancer care program in BC. 
  • Nearly 8,000 young adults are diagnosed with cancer each year in Canada – nearly one young adult diagnosed every 65 minutes, or more than 20 young adults diagnosed every day.  

I want to provide care that better acknowledges the unique experiences of young adults. We can do better for young adults. ~ Healthcare provider

I want my voice and story to be heard to help make young adult cancer care better. ~ Young adult


Knowledge Sharing

Then, participants engaged in conversations around four key questions:

  1. What brings you to this session?
  2. What currently supports cancer care for young adults in BC?
  3. What would improve cancer care for young adults in BC?
  4. What’s your top priority to reshape cancer care for young adults in BC?


Participant responses were captured and a graphic recorder, Melissa Kendzierski of Drawing Change expertly highlighted key themes, actions, and recommendations. Chief among the recommendations:

  • Patient navigators skilled in guiding young adults effectively through a cancer experience,
  • Program development and research specific to the needs of young adults; and
  • Comprehensive, one-stop online access to resources to support young adults experiencing cancer.

There’s been a large increase in young adult cancer at our small clinic – including advanced cancer – and we have zero resources for these folks. ~ Healthcare provider

If we can do better now, less young adults will be in this space in the future. I have lost too many friends. ~ Young adult


Moving Forward

Since the Summit, momentum continues to build. BC Cancer and Royal Roads University recently hired an early career researcher, Dr. Jon Avery, to support the development of young adult cancer care programming at BC Cancer, and we are exploring pilot initiatives to improve cancer care for young adults in BC.  We are so appreciative of our colleagues at BC Cancer for making this session possible and of all our partners especially our young adults who brought their energy, expertise and charisma! We are deeply grateful and look forward to integrating and sharing our learnings widely.


Dr. Heykoop’s research program focused on reshaping young adult cancer care is currently funded by a Michael Smith Health Research BC Scholar Award, a Vancouver Foundation Participatory Action Research Grant and support from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research Pediatric Cancer Research Initiative.


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