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Research to address the social and emotional health needs of adolescents and young adults (AYA) with cancer and AYA survivors of cancer

Dr Margaret Lawler, Assistant Professor in Psychology, Discipline of Occupational Therapy is one of four recipients of the recently announced New Foundations 2022 awards for the School of Medicine.

The social and emotional needs of adolescents and young adults (AYA) with cancer differ from those of children and older adults and cannot be adequately met by paediatric or adult services. The development of services and supports specifically for AYA is, understandably, a strategic priority for cancer services in Ireland. The national cancer strategy identified the need for community-based services as a mechanism for providing support to AYA cancer survivors.

One possible approach is ‘social prescribing’ (SP), a non-medicalised community-based service which links individuals to local community-based services (e.g., exercise groups, arts-based activities) to meet their health and wellbeing needs. Research is needed however to determine the suitability of SP for AYA living with cancer.

Listening to the voices of AYA with cancer and AYA survivors will help to gain insight into their perspectives regarding the acceptability and potential of SP as a support mechanism for living with cancer.

This research, led by Dr Margaret Lawler, entitled: Exploration of suitability and acceptability of social prescribing for adolescents and young adults with cancer, in collaboration with the Irish Cancer Society, will help to identify whether SP has the potential to assist with addressing the social and emotional health needs of adolescents and young adults (AYA) with cancer and AYA survivors of cancer.

If the research team find that SP is perceived as a suitable and acceptable support service for AYA cancer survivors, it could be included as a core component of survivorship care plans for individuals who have completed treatment and may be having difficulty returning to pre-cancer activities and roles.

Moreover, there is potential for the Irish Cancer Society to offer this community-based service through all their cancer centres throughout Ireland, thus supporting AYA with cancer and AYA survivors to re-engage in personally valued activities and ultimately, improve the lives of many individuals and their families in Ireland.

Speaking about the award and the project’s potential for real impact, Dr Lawler said:

I am excited about the opportunity to collaborate with the Irish Cancer Society and explore social prescribing as a mechanism for supporting social and emotional needs of AYA with cancer.

The collaborators and their roles in this project are:

  • Professor Deirdre Connolly, Professor of Occupational Therapy, Discipline of Occupational Therapy, School of Medicine
  • Ms Amy Nolan, Head of Children, Adolescents & Young Adults (CAYA), Irish Cancer Society
  • Ms Elaine Smyth, Children’s Cancer Nurse Coordinator, Irish Cancer Society 
  • Ms Rebecca Gorman, CAYA Advocacy, Irish Cancer Society 

Dr Margaret Lawlor