UTH

Researchers Aim to Fill Gaps in Research on Cancer in Adolescents and Young Adults

Andrea Betts, PhD, MPH, Aubree Shay, PhD, MSW, Caitlin Murphy, PhD, MPH, and Marlyn Allicock, PhD, MPH.
Andrea Betts, PhD, MPH, Aubree Shay, PhD, MSW, Caitlin Murphy, PhD, MPH, and Marlyn Allicock, PhD, MPH make up the AYA STAR LAB team.

The Adolescent and Young Adult Scholarship, Training, and Research (AYA STAR) Lab is a team of UTHealth Houston School of Public Health investigators working to improve the lives of adolescents and young adults (AYAs) with cancer. Comprised of researchers from CHPPR and the Center for Pediatric Population Health, AYA STAR Lab is a multidisciplinary team with diverse expertise in behavioral sciences, intervention development, epidemiology, program evaluation, and health disparities working out of School of Public Health campuses across the state of Texas.

AYAs are individuals diagnosed with cancer between the ages of 15 and 39 years old. They account for about 6% of cancer diagnoses in Texas, and their age group is the fastest growing in the state. Even so, they have not been a major focus of study in cancer research until recently.

“AYAs with cancer have historically been understudied,” said Andrea Betts, PhD, MPH, “but as there’s been more interest, we’ve learned that they face a lot of unique challenges, both in the short-term when they’re diagnosed and over the long-term.”

AYA STAR Lab consists of Betts, Aubree Shay, PhD, MSW, Caitlin Murphy, PhD, MPH, and Marlyn Allicock, PhD, MPH. The team formed in 2020 when the researchers realized they shared a common interest in AYA cancer and decided to bring together their diverse skillsets and areas of research.

“The goal of our collective research program is really to improve age appropriate healthcare,” said Betts. “There’s a growing AYA oncology field of practice, but it’s new and there are still a lot of gaps. We’re trying to fill those evidence gaps and help move the field along.”

The team has published a number of studies on AYAs with cancer, including studies on the impacts of cancer diagnosis during pregnancy and on future pregnancies. They are currently developing a survey of AYAs in Texas to be conducted later this year. This survey should provide insights into the specific needs of the community and help to guide future research.

AYA STAR Lab is working with a Community Advisory Board comprised of a diverse group of AYA cancer survivors from both within and outside of Texas. The board provides input on research focus and strategies, such as the upcoming survey, based on their firsthand experiences as members of the community.

“We want to make sure our research focus is meeting the community’s needs and interests,” said Allicock. “Our community advisory board is a brilliant, dynamic group of young people who offer so much to complement our research with their lived experience.”

The team also works with students at UTHealth Houston to provide opportunities to get them engaged in AYA research and gain valuable research experience.

“We not only want to do this research ourselves, but get the next generation of researchers and practitioners interested and give them some experience so that they can keep the work going,” said Allicock.

For more information on AYA STAR Lab, please contact ayastarlab@uth.tmc.edu.

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