Prevention of cancer is possible

Personalizing a cancer prevention plan

SAN ANTONIO (January 25, 2011) – Probably half of all cancers are preventable, said Ian M. Thompson, Jr., M.D., director of the Cancer Therapy & Research Center at the UT Health Science Center, and he’ll discuss how in a Feb. 10 free public lecture.

“Every single person should have a plan for assessing their risk of cancer,” Dr. Thompson said.

There are two kinds of cancer prevention, he said. Primary prevention is the thing one does to avoid getting cancer in the first place, such as not smoking.

Secondary prevention is the act of finding it early and curing it. Mammography has been proven to reduce deaths from breast cancer, and there is evidence that early detection reduces deaths in prostate cancer.

“We do that, but I’m not sure we should aspire to secondary prevention as our No. 1 goal,” Thompson said. “For prostate cancer, you have to screen over 1,500 men over a 10-year period, and treat 50 of them, to prevent one death.”

“So it’s a costly way of doing things, and not entirely effective. To this day, women are dying of breast cancer. Men are dying of prostate cancer. And many of them have been screened.”

But people can also embrace primary prevention in every way possible — avoiding all fatty and fried foods, never smoking or drinking or going out into the sun — and still get cancer.

Rather than going to extremes, Dr. Thompson said, there is a practical approach to cancer prevention, and that is risk assessment.

If you have fair skin, it follows that you should be extra protective against melanoma. Smokers are at a tremendously increased risk for lung cancer: stopping smoking dramatically reduces that risk. Family histories, genetic tendencies and certain environmental exposures all should be considered, and from there the individual can take the preventive measures that really count. There are a number of ways to do that, ranging from pharmaceutical treatments to lifestyle changes, and Dr. Thompson will talk about those on Feb. 10.

“I don’t know a single person who says, ‘My plan for managing a future motor vehicle accident is to increase my health insurance,’” Dr. Thompson said. “Most people simply put on a seat belt. We’ll help people make a list of steps they can take to strap that anti-cancer seatbelt around themselves.”

The presentation will be Thursday, Feb. 10, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the CTRC, 7979 Wurzbach, in the Mabee conference room on the fourth floor of the Grossman Building.

Refreshments will be provided. For more information, call (210) 450-1152.

This is the third in a series of free monthly public lectures on cancer sponsored by the CTRC. In March, Andrew Brenner, M.D. Ph.D., will speak on the topic of cells phones and brain cancer.

The Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is one of the elite academic cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute (NCI) Designated Cancer Center, and is one of only four in Texas. A leader in developing new drugs to treat cancer, the CTRC Institute for Drug Development (IDD) conducts one of the largest oncology Phase I clinical drug programs in the world, and participates in development of cancer drugs approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. For more information, visit

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