Feb. 4 is World Cancer Day, which was organized by the Union for International Cancer Control to raise awareness of the actions needed to prevent, treat and control the many forms of cancer. That parallels the goal MD Anderson is working toward each and every day.
“Our mission is to end cancer in Texas and the world. We take that very seriously,” says Oliver Bogler, Ph.D., senior vice president for academic affairs at MD Anderson. Bogler heads the institution’s Global Academic Programs, which manages the Sister Institution Network. With researchers from 32 premier academic cancer institutions in 23 countries, the network is the largest global alliance of cancer centers collaborating on research and education projects.
Together, the institutions are preparing for the “tidal wave” of cancer cases World Health Organization (WHO) scientists say is approaching. Today, 14 million cancer cases are diagnosed worldwide each year. According to WHO, that number will increase to 24 million cases a year by 2035.
“We’re all aging and living longer,” says Margaret Row, M.D., vice president of operations for MD Anderson Cancer Network®. “The largest group affected by cancer is senior citizens, so the number of people who are going to get cancer and need cancer services in the next 20 years will be huge.”
Expanding MD Anderson’s international presence will help mitigate the coming cancer crisis.
“The world is counting on us to solve this humanitarian crisis,” says MD Anderson President Ronald DePinho, M.D. “We not only intend to take on this grand challenge, but we intend to win.”
Already, MD Anderson is present in a number of countries, including MD Anderson Madrid in Spain, the MD Anderson Radiation Treatment Center at American Hospital in Istanbul, and in Brazil, where the cancer center is helping Sao Paulo’s No. 1 ranked hospital develop its oncology program using MD Anderson as a model. Sister institutions throughout the world also collaborate with MD Anderson on academic initiatives.
Last year, the institution expanded its ambitious Moon Shots Program to include cancers related to the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV causes several different cancers, including almost all cases of cervical cancer. A vaccine is available to block transmission of the virus, making cervical cancer, unlike most female cancers, 100% preventable.
Yet in Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean, cervical cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths in women. To bridge this gap, Kathleen Schmeler, M.D., co-leader of the HPV Moon Shot, runs the Central America Oncology Education Program, or CONEP. The program brings gynecologists from MD Anderson to Central America and Southeast Africa, where they make patient rounds and train local doctors in cervical cancer prevention and treatment.
“We have a responsibility to share our expertise and knowledge with the rest of the world,” says Schmeler, associate professor of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine. “One of the most effective things we can do is help get the vaccine out there.”
In January, MD Anderson joined with the 68 other National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers to issue a statement calling for increased HPV vaccination.
“These centers have bonded together in the hope that their collective action will catch the public’s attention to highlight the tremendous opportunity we have to prevent these cancers in this country and throughout the world,” says Ernest Hawk, M.D., vice president and division head of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences.
Last August, MD Anderson hired an internationally recognized health care leader to support this and other cancer prevention initiatives. Joxel Garcia, M.D., a former U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. Representative to the World Health Organization, and a four-star Admiral for the U.S. Public Health Service, directs the prevention efforts of MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program.
“While developing new cancer treatments and therapies is important, preventing disease is always preferable to curing disease,” says Garcia.
MD Anderson’s prevention efforts will be shared with leadership at local, state, federal and international entities, he says.
“Houston is our base, our home, and we want it to be as healthy as possible, but we have a global responsibility as well.”