Our impact on cancer
Getting the message across
The way information is presented makes a big difference in the medical decisions people make. Carol Golin, MD, associate professor of health behavior and health education, is uncovering the best ways to share information with people to help them make the best decisions for their own health.
Prostate screening is a good example because many men say they don’t really know whether the screenings actually reduce risks and save lives. Although more than half of all American men, aged 50 or older, have had one or more prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, most men correctly answer less than one third of questions about the benefits of screening and early detection. Golin examined two different strategies for presenting information about the PSA test. Results showed that men understood the benefits of PSA tests better if the information was presented along with information about other men’s health issues than if only PSA tests were discussed. Knowing how patients learn about their health, and correcting misperceptions, are critical these days as patients assume greater control of their own health care and need to make informed decisions.
Curious Trends in Liver Cancer
While the incidence of many major cancers has declined over the past 30 years, liver cancer cases are still on the rise. Hepatocellular carcinoma is the fifth most common cancer worldwide and the third leading cause of cancer death.
Ivan Rusyn, MD, PhD, professor of environmental sciences and engineering, conducts research to determine how the increase in liver cancer incidence may relate to chronic diseases (such as hepatitis C), lifestyle factors (including alcohol abuse) and environmental agents (such as fungal toxins). Rusyn and collaborators at Kansas University Medical Center use animal models to understand the pathogenesis of human disease. Rusyn says one of the challenges in understanding the combined effects of chronic viral infection and an environmental toxin is the lack of animal models, since mice tend to be resistant to human hepatitis C infection. However, it is possible
to create mice that can be studied in this way by inserting viral DNA into the mouse genome. Rusyn’s lab research using these transgenic mice has shown that exposure to a fungal toxin called aflatoxin B1 has doubled the incidence of liver tumors. Human studies have shown similar outcomes but these mouse experiments provide a useful model for understanding how the disease may develop in the liver. Rusyn continues to explore the mechanisms of how cancer causing agents interact so that researchers may find new ways to prevent and treat cancers.
Clues for preventing and controlling breast cancer
Melissa Troester, PhD, studies why some women are more susceptible than others to various forms of breast cancer. Her genomic studies are paving the way for understanding which types of surgeries (e.g. mastectomy or breast conserving surgery) are needed for different types of tumors. Troester, an assistant professor of epidemiology, and her multi-center team of researchers perform microarrays on normal tissue samples from women undergoing various types of breast surgery. Then, they investigate the relationship between the gene expression in the normal tissue and that of the adjacent breast tumor. The researchers also study how other breast cancer risk factors (including reproductive history, breast density, and age) are associated with specific genomic changes in normal breast tissue.
Troester’s early results suggest the normal tissue microenvironment collaborates with the breast tumor during the progression of cancer, and how they collaborate affects the prognosis. Now, Troester is identifying biomarkers with improved discriminatory accuracy in predicting breast cancer risk. “Studying normal breast tissue represents a unique and understudied yet promising approach for elucidating new cancer prevention and control strategies,” she says.