Treating the Teen Cancer Patient

The teen years are a time when adolescents develop their self-image, seek autonomy or independence from their parents, and deal with issues of emerging sexuality, Dr. Sender says. Keeping that in mind with young cancer patients, he explains, “We try to understand and not downplay the issues of self-esteem and body image. We make sure we are talking to the patients and not just their parents. No one likes to lose his or her hair, for instance. For a young girl who is 13, 14 or 15, we realize this can be quite catastrophic.”

“A teen’s peers are really important too, so we try to keep them involved. Peer support helps,” says Dr. Sender.  “We have social workers and nurses that talk to the patients. We try to make sure we are listening to them. We’ve taken them out of their normal routine, their school and peer relationships, and they lose control.” Patients may also enlist support from a religious leader of their chosen faith if they would like. “We respect all religions and people’s faith and how they cope,” Dr. Sender says.

Social and peer acceptance; career and education considerations; and the desire for independence are among issues to be considered when helping the adolescent cancer patient. It’s important for everyone involved in the patient’s care to consider these factors to better understand how the teen will respond to therapy, the hospital and possibly being in a clinical trial, says Dr. Sender, who noted that fewer teens and young adults nationwide participate in pediatric clinical trials compared to younger children. To help better connect teen cancer patients with their school and peers, CHOC is participating in a research project with UC Irvine that will place a robot in an Orange County
classroom — connected to a CHOC patient by a computer — so the patient can interact with classmates and have an improved sense of normalcy. Dr. Sender says researchers hope to learn whether the robot keeps the patient better engaged with peers at school.


  • Estimated number of cancer deaths that will occur this year in children from birth – 19: 1,960
  • Estimated number of new cancer cases that will be diagnosed this year in the U.S. in children ages birth-19: 15,780
  • Percentage of overall 5-year survival rate for childhood cancers: 80%

View the full feature on Teen Cancer Patients

Dr. Boon
Dr. Leonard Sender
CHOC Oncologist


Dr. Sender is the medical director of the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s and director of clinical operations and program development at the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center at UC Irvine Medical Center. Dr. Sender completed his internship and residency in pediatrics at UC Irvine Medical Center and had a fellowship in pediatric hematology/oncology at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Dr. Sender serves as board chairman of the “Stupid Cancer” Foundation and is a founding member and chairman of, an adolescent cancer advocacy organization.

“I take a patient-centric approach and treat young patients as a person while understanding the context in which they get cancer. My goals are to cure the cancer and achieve a meaningful survivorship.”

Medical school at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa

Pediatric hematology/oncology Pediatrics

More about Dr. Sender

This article was featured in the Orange County Register on June 9, 2014, and was written by Amy Bentley.