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A fresh approach to prevention

MD Anderson’s mission takes an exciting new direction in cancer control


By Katrina Burton

The statistics are staggering. Each year, according to the American Cancer Society, more than 1 million people in the United States get cancer. As the costs and devastating effects of the cancer burden increase, so does the role of prevention and control in creating hope for a cancer-free future for all.

Building on the institution’s mission to eradicate cancer and accelerated efforts to increase momentum, MD Anderson is responding to these challenges with a renewed, expanded and more sharply focused commitment to cancer control, in the form of a platform called Cancer Prevention and Control (Institutional platforms provide expertise, technology or infrastructure that help support initiatives such as the Moon Shots Program, an unprecedented, comprehensive assault on cancer announced in September 2012; see overview).

 Photo by F. Carter Smith

Acting on knowledge

Approximately half of all cancers can be prevented with existing knowledge. Acting on that knowledge to better serve vulnerable populations is the essence of the platform, which plans to translate research findings into meaningful policy, education and community-based services. Its goal is to measurably reduce the cancer burden and make a difference for people across Texas, the nation and the world.

“We need a more intentional and concentrated effort in cancer control to complement our research,” says Ernest Hawk, M.D., vice president and head of Cancer Prevention and Population Science and platform co-leader. Structured and milestone-driven, the platform addresses lifestyle risk factors, including tobacco and sun exposure among youths.  Unhealthy behaviors often originate in childhood, Hawk stresses.

Collaborations weaving history

Describing cancer control as a “team sport,” Hawk says the platform’s success lies in collaborating with likeminded people, institutions and organizations.

A representative result of collaboration in cancer control is the Texas Legislature’s recent passage of Senate Bill 329 restricting minors’ use of tanning beds, which have been associated with potential cancer risks. Serving as the legislation’s primary scientific and clinical resource, the platform supported the leadership of Sen. Joan Huffman, bill author, and Rep. John Zerwas, House sponsor, as well as numerous organizations and advocacy groups.

“The passing of the tanning bed legislation is a great example of a collaborative effort to take action from a policy perspective and intervene in an area that will have an effective, positive impact,” says Mark Moreno, vice president of Government Relations and platform co-leader.

Combatting health risks through cancer control

During this time of health care reform, MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention and Control is uniquely positioned to provide critical information and support to help reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.

“There are opportunities and lives at stake,” says Hawk. “It’s our job to take what we know and apply it in the most effective way to benefit the most people.”

Budding projects for cancer control

Hawk and his team are developing a number of innovative projects, many in need of funding. Those projects include:

  1. Cancer180 — an educational module for young adult cancer survivors that addresses behaviors associated with cancer prevention and early detection, including physical activity, nutrition, sun protection, tobacco avoidance, cancer screening and HPV vaccination.
  2. End Tobacco — a set of 118 actions in policy, education and community services to help end tobacco use at the institutional, local, regional, state, national and international levels.
  3. Healthy Communities Initiative — a project to facilitate healthy lifestyle behaviors among residents of community partners, addressing nutrition, physical activity, tobacco use, sun exposure and cancer screenings.
  4. MD Anderson Plan for a Comprehensive Early Childhood and Youth Education (K-12) Approach to Cancer Prevention — age-appropriate educational programs to increase critical thinking and skills to help youths adopt cancer prevention behaviors, potentially serving as a model for schools and youth organizations nationally and internationally.
  5. Mexico-Texas Tobacco Use Prevention — a collaboration with the Mexican government to reduce tobacco use among Mexican and Mexican-American children in Mexico and Texas border communities.
  6. Mobile Cancer Prevention Clinic — takes cancer prevention services into low-resource communities, offering screening and risk assessment for breast, colon and cervical cancers and other screenings based on need.
  7. Project ECHO/Telemedicine Program — connects MD Anderson experts with primary care providers and medical oncologists across Texas to raise awareness of cancer prevention, treatment and survivorship issues.

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center