Ernest Hawk, M.D., M.P.H.
Cancer Prevention and Control
About Dr. Hawk
Dr. Hawk is trained as a medical oncologist, but became devoted to cancer prevention during his fellowship because of the mismatch between his goals for his cancer patients versus the realities of cancer treatment 20 years ago. As a result, he switched careers to focus on cancer prevention.
He now has 20 years of experience in cancer prevention drug development and in a broad array of cancer prevention research efforts. Most recently, he’s worked to develop, implement, tailor, disseminate and evaluate evidence-based cancer control strategies designed to effect a substantial and lasting impact on outcomes at the population level.
Fighting Cancer: It's Personal
What’s your Moon Shots focus?
I co-lead the Cancer Prevention & Control Platform which implements evidence-based actions involving public policies, public/professional education, or the delivery of clinical or public health services to effect a meaningful and lasting reduction in the burden of cancer and its associated risk factors at the population level. I also serve as an ad hoc advisor to the Colorectal Cancer Moon Shots Program.
What makes the Moon Shots Program stand out?
Cancer control actions are broadly acknowledged as “the right things to do”, but they are often behaviorally- and culturally-based, therefore challenging to implement on a personal level. Additionally, they rarely – if ever – generate reimbursement sufficient for sustained prioritization by healthcare providers. For these reasons, progress has been steady, but much slower than we’d like.
MD Anderson’s emphasis on comprehensive, pro-active cancer control actions is attempting to serve as a positive catalyst to drive progress across an array of key cancer risk factors – tobacco use, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, excessive UV exposure, failure to receive evidence-based anti-cancer vaccinations and cancer screening tests - that are responsible for the majority of cancers in our population. High-impact actions in cancer control represent the highest form of our mission to “…end cancer in Texas, the nation and the world.” There’s no more exciting or impactful investment in our population’s future than that.
What motivates and excites you?
Up to 50% of all cancer deaths in the U.S. are estimated to be preventable if we can stimulate the adoption and maintenance of healthy lifestyles. That requires evidence-based education and behavioral changes at the individual and population levels, but those changes can be very challenging to adopt for a variety of reasons. Our work helps Texans to realize the promise of cancer prevention by educating, encouraging, inspiring and assisting people to adopt and maintain healthy lifestyle choices for themselves and their families. As a result, their cancer risks are reduced, and their health and wellness are promoted.
What makes your fight against cancer personal?
I lost three grandparents to tobacco-related illnesses at an early age – two from lung cancer and a third from a stroke. And I’ve taken care of hundreds of patients and their families with tobacco-related cancers who suffered incalculable traumas and losses due to the legal sale of a powerfully addictive drug – nicotine – that is largely unregulated and still actively promoted despite the fact that it offers all harms and no benefits whatsoever. Finally, I am motivated by cancers that have taken the lives of family members that were preventable. For example, cervical cancer should and can be eliminated within my lifetime thanks to the availability of a safe and effective HPV vaccine as well as effective screening programs. It’s unacceptable and troubling that these preventable situations still adversely impact so many lives.
What do you hope to accomplish?
I have two goals that are shared by most physicians working in cancer:
1. Prioritize cancer prevention and health promotion as personal and public health priorities in Texas, the nation and the world so we can truly prevent all preventable cancers, saving the innumerable financial, emotional and physical burdens that attend a cancer diagnosis for patients and their families.
2. Minimize – and ultimately, eliminate - the many inequities in healthy living, cancer screening, diagnosis and care that exist in order to promote health and improve outcomes for all.
Cancer treatment will always be needed, but hopefully, it will be needed less often, and more effective and less toxic when applied, because of the population’s common practice of prevention, and the cultural dominance of health and wellness versus treatment.
Is there anything else you want people to know about you and your work?
I’m so grateful for the encouragement and support from people who share our vision for a world committed to greater health and wellness, and free of cancer and its incredibly adverse impact on people and their families.