The Challenges of Prevention Research

MD Anderson Cancer Center today accepted a 35 million dollar gift from the Dan Duncan family. It’s the second largest gift in the institutions history. The money will establish the Duncan Institute for Cancer Prevention and Risk Assessment. Capella Tucker reports prevention research comes with it’s own unique challenges.

Jan Duncan listed off numbers of relatives who have had cancer,
many of whom had been treated at MD Anderson.

“Our family can think of no greater joy than to part of preventing the pain as well as the emotional, financial, and physical challenges of this horrible disease.”

MD Anderson Cancer Center has been working on putting as
much focus on prevention as treatment.

Doctor Ernest Hawk leads the Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences.
He says patients diagnosed with cancer typically ask what does this mean to me
and what does this mean to my family.

“That’s where prevention can play a very important role in providing answers to that question. And thirdly, how can I help others to ensure that they don’t follow the path I’m on. That sort of intrinsic altruism is what brings us to work everyday.”

Hawk says there are not as much resources for cancer prevention research.
Anderson’s President Doctor John Mendelsohn says cancer prevention has it’s own challenges.

“One type of intervention is behavioral change. And behavioral change in our country is much harder to do taking pill.”

As for other measures, proving that an intervention works is difficult.

“Proving that something is effective against lung cancer takes a year or two. The average person with lung cancer unfortunately is gone a year later. The average person, some live longer. If you’re trying to prevent a disease you may have to follow people for ten or 20 years, so it’s a very complicated thing to prove that an intervention will indeed prevent.”

And then even if something is proven, Mendelsohn says it’s not always covered by insurance plans.

“And the example I gave was colonoscopy and ten years ago it wasn’t typically covered. And after the public learned we could cut the death rate from colon cancer 50%, if everyone over fifty years old got a colonoscopy. They demanded it and with a year or two all insurance plans covered colonoscopy.”

Officials say the gift is timely in another area. Voters last November approved proposition 15 which will provide money for cancer research. Leveraging funds are needed to draw down those dollars from the state.

Capella Tucker. KUHF- Houston Public Radio News.