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Prevention: Introduction

Annual Report - 2006-2007

Working to Improve and 
Sustain Health

By Sandi Stromberg

While continuing to make strides in the treatment of cancer, M. D. Anderson also adheres to the old saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
For more than a decade, it has been a leader in cancer prevention by enhancing research in molecular epidemiology, behavioral science, chemoprevention and early detection.

Through its Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences, M. D. Anderson also is committed to expanding research in health disparities, increasing provision of prevention services to diverse populations in the community and recruiting more minority patients into clinical trials.

At the same time, the division is expanding clinical services in personalized risk assessment, genetic testing, behavioral and lifestyle counseling, and sophisticated cancer screening that includes both evaluation of markers and new imaging methodologies.

Under the direction of Bernard Levin, M.D., who retired in 2007 after 23 years of distinguished service to M. D. Anderson, the division has grown substantially. With 69 faculty members, more than 500 employees and an annual research budget of $24 million, it’s one of the largest programs of its kind in the world.

During the past year, the division’s faculty have been actively involved in evidence-based research, helping to define what causes cancer, who is most at risk for developing the disease and how cancer might be detected early, or even prevented.

They have developed risk assessment models, for example, that can predict an individual’s chance of developing lung and bladder cancer based on genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors, providing an opportunity for active monitoring and early intervention. In addition, strong associations have been discovered between obesity and endometrial and prostate cancer.

They also are making inroads into the causes of primary brain tumors, thanks to an $11 million grant awarded by the National Cancer Institute last year. M. D. Anderson investigators lead a 15-institution international consortium to study the causes and risk factors of primary adult and pediatric brain tumors known as gliomas.

Through this Gliogene study, about 15,000 individuals from at least 400 families who have had two biologically related members diagnosed with primary brain tumors will be screened. By collecting family histories and blood samples, investigators hope to better understand the hereditary factors associated with gliomas and will attempt to identify a panel of genes that can predict who will develop the disease.

Investigators continued to think outside the box, looking beyond the role of genetics and family history to the effects that social interactions and cultural ties have on a person’s chance of developing cancer. Much of this research centers on promoting healthy lifestyle habits and devising innovative programs, such as interactive video games, to help individuals understand the dangers of engaging in certain behaviors like smoking or excessive drinking, which can put them at greater risk for cancer.

M. D. Anderson investigators have long recognized that prevention is the best way to ease the burden of cancer, and as the division’s new leader, Ernest Hawk, M.D., intends to carry that effort forward.

“I’m impressed by the past achievements of M. D. Anderson in this area, and the institution’s sustained commitment to advancing prevention,” says Hawk, who served as director of the Office of Centers, Training and Resources at NCI before coming to M. D. Anderson. “It’s my firm belief that the division has the capacity to emerge as the definitive resource for educating the public and health care professionals about state-of-the-art practices in cancer prevention and the critical role that research plays in its future.”

Hawk looks forward to “building upon Dr. Levin’s successes, with the division serving as a dynamic training ground for future generations of researchers and practitioners committed to cancer prevention, and to the broader mission of improving and sustaining health.”

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center