Areas of Focus | Prevention & Early Detection - NFCR

Prevention & Early Detection

Prevention & Early Detection

What is Prevention & Early Detection?

One of the best ways to reduce the number of patients dying from cancer is to prevent the disease from developing in the first place. That’s why researchers are investigating links between nutrition and cancer, as well as pre-cancerous conditions that could stop cancer from starting (known as chemoprevention).

Scientists are also working to improve early detection tools that are likely the most effective means to finding cures for many cancers.

NFCR Research Highlights

Dr. Robert Bast, who receives NFCR support, is best known for developing the OC125 (CA125) monoclonal antibody in 1981 that led to the production of the CA125 radioimmunoassay – the first useful biomarker for monitoring the course of patients with epithelial ovarian cancer. Since this discovery, Dr. Bast and his team have been evaluating ways CA125 and other biomarkers can be used together to screen for ovarian cancer.

Dr. James Basilion and his team at the NFCR Center for Molecular Imaging are developing new tools that can literally change the way doctors are looking at cancer. One newly-designed molecular probe allows researchers to view multiple molecular biomarkers simultaneously and see a tumor’s genetic structure in real time. This visualization allows for the very early detection of tiny tumors that will greatly improve treatment outcomes for many cancers.

NFCR-funded scientist Dr. Paul Schimmel recently showed how resveratrol – a natural ingredient found in foods including cacao and grape skins – may have potent preventative effects when combined with tRNA synthetase enzymes and a key protein – PARP-1.

Dr. Helmut Sies¸ whose work is funded by NFCR, discovered that the antioxidant lycopene, a micronutrient found in tomatoes and other foods can reduce the damaging effects of oxygen produced by our body’s essential metabolic processes. Lycopene has strong skin cancer prevention effects.

Dr. Michael Sporn, whose work was supported by NFCR, is known as the “Father of Chemoprevention” because much of his research has dealt with the development of new drugs that can be used as chemopreventive agents. Throughout his career, he has been involved in the synthesis of several hundred naturally-occurring molecules called triterpenoids. These molecules have potent preventative effects, including anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, pro-apoptotic (cellular suicide) and cytoprotective effects. The triterpenoids could be used as agents against several types of cancer, including breast, lung and pancreatic cancers. For individuals at especially high risk, the promising results of Dr. Sporn’s research offers hope that there could be new and safe drugs for cancer prevention.

Related Content

How to Protect Yourself from Cervical Cancer

Cancer Screen Week: Who Should be Screened?

Breast Exams: At Home or Clinic?

There is a grim reality to both cancer research and funding: Each, to an enormous degree, is directed at early detection, not when metastasis has already taken place. Like most diseases, cancer is, in fact, fairly curable at its earliest stages. However, once a tumor begins to spread, mortality rates soar. Over 90 percent of cancer deaths are due to metastatic cancer. It is the prevailing paradigm that metastatic cancer care is palliative, not curative. Therefore, it is vital that patients be vigilant to changes in their bodies and that doctors be thorough in their examinations in order to catch cancer while it is still contained. Breast cancer, the most common cancer in women, exemplifies this. The five-year relative survival rate for women with stage 0 or stage I breast cancer is close to 100%; 93% for stage II; and 73% for stage III. However, once at stage IV, when the cancer is metastatic, five-year breast cancer relative survival falls precipitously to a mere 22%. Catching breast cancer early is key. Susan Brown, managing director for health and mission program education at Susan G. Komen, the largest breast cancer organization in the United States, has several recommendations for women as to what they should and should not do regarding breast health. Perhaps most striking, Brown is not an advocate of breast self-exams, or BSE, opting instead for exams done by a professional. “There is no high-level evidence that teaching someone BSE has any impact on breast cancer mortality,” says Brown. “We also discourage women trying to self-diagnose what they have based on what they may have read. Instead, what we want women to do is recognize a ‘change,’ and then go to their healthcare provider for further evaluation to explain that change.” “Change” can mean one or a combination of a number of conditions that can mimic normal breast development and evolution. Breasts are already dynamic: They change with puberty, pregnancy, menopause, weight gain (and loss) and because of hormonal fluctuations that are a part of a woman’s life. For patients not in the doctor’s office, Brown recommends what is termed “breast self-awareness messages.” “Know your risk, get screened, know what is normal for you and make healthy lifestyle choices,” she says. “We think it is a more comprehensive set of information we think women can use when they are thinking about their breast health.” The most obvious sign of cancer is a lump, but there are more subtle clues that BSEs can miss of which women should be aware. Indeed, around 5% of women have metastatic breast cancer when they are first diagnosed. Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast; a change in the size or shape of the breast; dimpling or puckering; an itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple; a pulling in of the nipple or other parts of the breast; a sudden nipple discharge; or a new pain in one spot in the breast that does not go away are all signals that should be investigated. However a lump or other sign of cancer is discovered, be it through BSE or at a routine […]