Toward the future of cancer
prevention…Can most types of cancers be prevented?
It's a question that has
emerged in the past 20 years, given advances in screening
and early diagnosis, rapid developments in genetics and
molecular biology, and progress in the treatment of early
disease and in next-generation targeted therapies.
And finding answers is one
of the top goals of The University of Texas M. D. Anderson
Cancer Center, which has one of the largest cancer
prevention research programs in the world.
M. D. Anderson was among
the first to begin dedicated prevention research efforts in
the late 1970s. A decade ago, nine faculty were working on
23 projects - a pursuit that was regarded as trend-setting
at the time. The cancer center's focus on prevention has
grown so much in recent years that the 48 faculty, involved
in 140-plus research projects and clinical programs valued
at more than $20 million in 2005 alone, just moved into the
new Cancer Prevention Building.
In addition to housing
faculty offices, the building's Cancer Prevention Center and
new Behavioral Research and Treatment Center provide
advanced early detection and risk-reduction services and
state-of-the-art biobehavioral and psychosocial research
These two centers involve only a sliver of the basic and
applied research under way. In short, the researchers,
physicians, nurses, employees and volunteers that staff this
building aim to bring about a future that may some day be
free of cancer.
They also are the first to say that attaining this goal will
not be easy; that prevention will require developing a wide
variety of strategies and associated tactics to curtail the
variety of different diseases, all called cancer, that have
now emerged as the number one killer of Americans under age
"Prevention is very broad," says Bernard Levin, M.D., vice
president and head of the Division of Cancer Prevention and
Population Sciences. "It is not just prevention of cancer
development, but includes advances in diagnosis and
treatment that reduce suffering and mortality from the
In short, "prevention," as oncologists use the term spans
the gamut from stopping cancer from ever developing to
improving cure rates through earlier detection, thereby
preventing recurrence and death. Prevention also encompasses
preventing suffering from cancer by controlling pain and
meeting psychosocial needs.
Because we see prevention as so inclusive, the task we have
set for ourselves is very difficult and won't likely be
accomplished for decades," Levin says. "But if we can lessen
the odds that even one person will develop cancer, or suffer
or die from it, we have moved one step closer to our goal.
It is that march of progress over time that will make a
difference in the future."