“Pay for this month’s chemo or rent? It’s a terrible choice.”
That’s how Kelly McGauhey kicked off her “elevator speech,” a 90-second summation of her experience this past summer
in MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Research Training Program.
“As the costs of cancer drugs rise, there’s been an explosion of interest in financial toxicity,” explained McGauhey. “But we don’t really know who it affects or if researchers are measuring it in a way that can be compared.”
To more accurately compare studies, McGauhey spent the summer analyzing the different measurements used to describe the consequences that can come from the high cost of cancer treatment. These consequences include patients forgoing or delaying drugs or care, and mental and physical health problems brought on by the stress of this financial burden. McGauhey’s ultimate goal is to help patients understand and learn to navigate this complicated financial landscape.
But how does researching financial toxicity fit within a cancer prevention training program? Very well, as it turns out.
Cancer prevention is an evolving field, expanding beyond lifestyles that lower cancer risk. Understanding health disparities, improving survivorship and informing public policy are just a few more examples of its larger scope, all with the goal of reducing the burden of cancer in the world.
With one of the oldest and largest prevention research training programs in the country, MD Anderson continues to drive that evolution through an innovative, multidisciplinary curriculum that includes the Cancer Prevention Research Training Program.
“Everything I learned while a trainee informs and influences the way I think about and create career development programming for our postdocs. It is the unique blend of research, scholarship and professional development acquired through the program that ultimately allows the trainees to be successful on their career path.”
“We’re working toward expanding the field and making new connections, particularly in people who are early in their careers,” says Shine Chang, Ph.D., a professor of Epidemiology and director of the program, which was founded in 1992 by Robert Chamberlain, Ph.D., professor emeritus of Epidemiology. “We want to encourage them to consider a place for prevention in whatever they do for their careers.”
McGauhey, a former patient navigator with the American Cancer Society, is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public health. Though she didn’t plan on a cancer prevention career, this summer has made her think twice.
“I think it opens your eyes to a lot of different possibilities,” she says. “It’s really neat to be able to work so closely with people you wouldn’t normally meet otherwise.”
Opportunities in the program include short-term summer experiences, such as McGauhey’s, as well as pre- and postdoctoral fellowships, which last up to two years.
“Our goal is to have an interdisciplinary training program where trainees can get a broad view of the entire landscape for cancer prevention,” explains Carrie Cameron, Ph.D., assistant professor of Epidemiology and the program’s associate director. “A lot of people are surprised to find out there are so many opportunities in cancer prevention.”
Michelle Fingeret, Ph.D., an associate professor of Behavioral Science who holds joint appointments in Head and Neck Surgery and Plastic Surgery, initially was unsure of her place in this field, but her experiences as a postdoctoral trainee helped launch her career.
“I would not have had a career had I not started under the auspices of the prevention research training program as a postdoctoral fellow. Drs. Chamberlain and Chang’s passion and leadership have directly impacted many lives.”
“As someone who conducts research on managing the psychological and social effects of cancer and its treatments,
it was a real challenge to know where I fit in this cancer prevention landscape,” says Fingeret. “I began to think of
it in terms of the vital need to prevent psychosocial impairments caused by cancer.”
Fingeret, a clinical psychologist, is now director of MD Anderson’s Body Image Research and Therapy Program, which works with patients to address concerns about their self-image and helps them adjust to changes to their bodies caused by treatment. She attributes much of her program’s success to meaningful collaborations with her former training program mentors.
“I was so glad they had a focus on multidisciplinary research because there’s no way I would be successful in my career
without having that as a foundation,” says Fingeret. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t had that postdoctoral
“My postdoctoral fellowship through the Cancer Prevention Research Training Program allowed me to obtain top-notch training and mentorship in the areas of tobacco cessation, health disparities, and cancer prevention research. These experiences were critical in helping me to become an independent researcher committed to reducing tobacco-related cancer disparities for the underserved.”
The program’s success has made it a national model for cancer prevention research training. Despite discontinuation
by the National Cancer Institute of funding dedicated to cancer prevention research training, Chang and Cameron
will continue to improve the curriculum and strive to make cancer prevention a priority among future scientists.
“When we’ve prevented every last cancer that can be prevented, and we help every survivor learn how to protect
themselves against future cancers, then we’ll be done,” says Chang.
“The cancer prevention research training fellowships were invaluable for my career because they provided excellent mentorship and career-development training. There’s a certain pride in being a trainee because you know that you belong to a special program that is really invested in your success.”