Just as people of various ages have different cancer care needs and priorities, how a nurse communicates with patients of various ages should differ, too. For instance, communication for pediatric patients predominantly involves parents, whereas adolescents and young adults (AYAs) may require alternate approaches to meet their communication needs. Personalizing your communication for each age group ensures effective and meaningful communication that has the potential to reduce the inherent uncertainty in cancer care and enhance survivors’ quality of life

The priorities surrounding meaningful conversations for all young age groups fall into three distinct themes: interpersonal relationships, informational preferences, and the delivery of treatment, medical care, and resource information. AYAs and parents of pediatric patients share the need for connection, compassion, commitment, and honesty. The AYA population often identifies the importance of clinicians maintaining composure throughout a conversation. Compassion and calmness in equal measure can instill trust—an essential component of effective patient and family relationships. 

Pediatric Patients 

Consider Joey, a 7-year-old patient with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), an aggressive and fatal brain cancer. The nurse is preparing the family to meet with the oncologist. Joey’s mother tells the nurse that she expects clear and honest communication: “We don’t want sugarcoating, but we do need compassionate understanding.” The nurse recognizes that the parents’ ability to process information is clouded by their obvious distress over Joey’s diagnosis and appreciates his mother’s ability to express their need for compassion coupled with honesty. 

Adolescent Patients 

Tina, age 12 years, is undergoing treatment for osteosarcoma. She tells one of the nurses that she feels discouraged because the oncology team talks to her parents as if she weren’t in the room. “It’s my life, and I want to be involved,” she says. “I want to be asked how I feel about different treatments.” Involving young patients in treatment conversations engages them in their care and maintains an interpersonal relationship. 

Young Adult Patients 

Lisa, age 25 years, has completed treatment for breast cancer and is completing a satisfaction survey. She notes that she feels her oncology team is like family. “They ask about my day-to-day life.” In another comment, she states that the nurse was particularly calm and compassionate, especially when Lisa was distraught after losing her hair. 

Effective communication in pediatric and AYA oncology care involves recognizing individual preferences, maintaining compassion, and fostering trust. These practices alleviate distress, engage patients in their care, and ultimately contribute to improved outcomes and the well-being of cancer survivors and their families.