By Patty Kim - October 17, 2022
Cancer causes more than 10 million deaths globally each year, but we have a significant opportunity to save lives through better prevention, screening and treatment of the disease.
Moffitt Cancer Center President and CEO Dr. Patrick Hwu led a discussion on improving cancer prevention, screening and treatment with an audience in New York this week for the annual Research Innovations event. He was joined by a panel of leading cancer experts who shared the latest advances.
Prevention and Health Equity
When it comes to preventing cancer, there are many factors within our control. This includes quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy diet and staying active. And if there were a vaccine that could prevent cancer, would you take it? Would you vaccinate your children?
“That time is now. Prevention is within our grasp,” said Dr. Susan Vadaparampil, associate center director of Community Outreach, Engagement and Equity at Moffitt. “The HPV vaccine prevents up to six different types of cancer. For once, we have something that is pretty painless, but we have not been able to move the needle yet because of slow uptake.”
Vadaparampil also leads a team focused on removing barriers to access by bringing guideline-based cancer screenings to diverse and underserved communities. Moffitt’s screening access program works with community partners to offer homebased colon cancer screening, for example, and also connects people to crucial follow-up care for abnormal results.
Developing New Therapies
Bringing new therapies to benefit cancer patients is difficult due to the complexity of the disease and the slow process of building accurate models of human cancer. Using mouse models to mimic what we see in human cancers can often take years to see results. Dr. Elsa Flores, associate center director of Basic Science at Moffitt, is focused on making cancer research quicker and better. One way to do this is to have engineers work alongside cancer biologists and drug developers to build human cancer models that enable the study of how cancer spreads and to develop new, effective therapies. Moffitt is committed to starting a new department of BioEngineering at the cancer center to accomplish these goals.
Flores’ lab is studying metabolism to better understand pathways specific to lung cancer and develop drugs that target cells rewired to metabolically thrive.
Moffitt is poised to become the cell therapy capital of the universe and is looking at ways to expedite our cell therapies and manufacture them more quickly. This is another area where engineers will help to accelerate therapies.
Detecting Breast Cancer Early
"We know that finding cancers early saves lives and patients do better."- Dr. Bethany Niell, Department of Diagnostic Imaging and Interventional Radiology
About four out of every 10 women who should be getting a screening mammogram have not in the past two years. “Screening mammograms and all screenings are profoundly underutilized,” said Dr. Bethany Niell, section chief of breast imaging at Moffitt. “We know that finding cancers early saves lives and patients do better.”
Niell is also focused on using radiomics, or mineable data within medical images, and machine learning to better examine imaging and stratify risk. In fact, Moffitt performs a risk assessment on everyone who comes in for a screening mammogram because the overwhelming majority of women do not know their breast cancer risk and have not discussed this with their doctor.
Dr. Jason B. Fleming, leader of the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program at Moffitt, has assembled a team focused on treating the Mount Everest of tumors: pancreatic cancer. Progress is being made, but he calls it incremental. The biggest challenge is earlier diagnosis for a disease that does not have a screening test available. Moffitt’s first Pancreatic Interception Center hopes to change that by using a unique array of testing and interpretation to identify individuals at higher risk of developing cancer.
To prevent pancreatic cancer development, Moffitt is also spearheading a National Cancer Institute-funded pancreatic cancer chemoprevention trial, which employs a vitamin E compound to prevent precancerous changes from progressing to cancer. Simply taking a pill a day could modify your risk from high to low. “Moffitt is the only cancer center in the country spearheading this novel approach,” Fleming said.