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Cancer Prevention Touted at Presidential Symposium

December 3, 2004

Fran Simon
Phone: (504) 988-5221

fsimon@tulane.edu

A prescription for cancer prevention might read like this: eat more broccoli (preferably raw), lose weight, get more exercise and quit smoking.

cancerThe lifestyle change recommendations that apply to cancer risk reduction also help protect against heart disease, according to a panel of experts who spoke at the Tulane University Presidential Symposium on Nov. 11.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the country. The American Cancer Society estimates that 200,000 of the nearly 600,000 cancer deaths predicted for 2004 could be prevented by lifestyle changes.

A panel of four leading experts spoke about the new scientific basis for cancer prevention at the sixth annual presidential symposium, which comprised a free, public forum on "Fight for Your Life: Cancer Prevention in the Real World" and a number of scholarly presentations on "The Prospect of Preventing Cancer: Scientific Basis and Fond Hope" for the scientific community and healthcare professionals.

"The last presidential symposium scared me to death about heart disease and the result was I lost 60 pounds," said President Scott Cowen in opening remarks, during the public program. "This one has inspired me to lose another 40."

Cowen praised the Tulane Cancer Center, organizer of the symposium, for the 30 percent growth in cancer research funding over the past year.

"Under the leadership of its founding director, Roy Weiner, the fledgling cancer center has become an important and distinguished center in the region, and it is well-known nationally in the field of cancer research."

The symposium explored various aspects of cancer prevention, including nutrition, immunotherapy, hormones and chemoprevention. Panelist Alan Kristal, associate head of the Cancer Prevention Program at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, summed up the "prescription" for cancer prevention by advocating for controlling obesity through diet and physical activity, eating more plant foods, reducing alcohol and quitting smoking.

On the hot issue of hormone-replacement therapy for menopausal women, Geoffrey Greene, an expert in the field of hormones and cancer, deemed the increased breast cancer risk statistically small (about 1.26 times the risk).

"The potential benefits of estrogen therapy, such as increased bone density and relief of hot flashes, probably outweigh the risks," said Greene, professor at the Ben May Institute and the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Chicago.

A landmark research study showed no increased mortality among women who took estrogen, and their risk of colon cancer was decreased. However, the study was halted early because of alarming results among the women who took estrogen combined with progestin. Currently, there is no vaccine available that prevents cancer. But scientists are working to develop a vaccine that would prevent cervical cancer in women.

"Most cancers are not linked to viruses, except cervical cancer, which is clearly linked to the human papilloma virus," said W. Martin Kast, Walter A. Richter Cancer Research Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Southern California's Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.

"Scientific discoveries have brought us to this point today, with the chance of intervention before cancer develops," said Ernest Terry Hawk, medical oncologist and epidemiologist in the Division of Cancer Prevention at the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health.

During the question-and-answer portion of the public forum, New Orleans City Council member Jackie Clarkson asked about the links between diet and cancer, wondering if the experts thought government should develop policies about foods and drinks served in schools.

"Policy comes locally," Kristal replied. "For example, Seattle does not allow candy, soft drinks or sugared juices for sale in the schools." Weiner said he hopes Clarkson will carry the banner to make a positive change to improve the community's health.

Citation information:

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