Teaching the Media About Cancer
During the "Cancer and the Environment" seminar, four NIH scientists explained how the interaction between genes and the environment can lead to cancer and how researchers determine whether a particular substance causes cancer. Many of the greatest cancer risks - smoking, unhealthy diet, excessive alcohol consumption, and sedentary lifestyle - are under an individual's control. This seminar, however, focused on the threat caused by factors that individuals cannot control, including those in the air, water, and earth.
At the seminar, Dr. David Longfellow of NCI's Division of Cancer Biology explained how cancer-causing substances are identified and how scientists use animal models and laboratory tests to determine carcinogenicity. Dr. Ken Cantor of NCI's Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics spoke about chemical carcinogens and epidemiological studies. The usual process, he explained, begins when a physician observes a cluster of cancer patients. This leads to quantitative studies, including environmental comparison studies, which compare risk by geographic area. Dr. Ed Trapido of NCI's Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences explained how the environment and the genome interact, using examples from lung cancer research. Dr. Christopher Portier, associate director of the National Toxicology Program for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, described how the mixture of substances humans are exposed to makes it difficult to study specific environmental hazards.
To encourage discussion between reporters and cancer scientists, the seminars are informal and are web-cast so that reporters who cannot attend in person can still participate; about 120 people watched the "Cancer and the Environment" seminar online. October's seminar was the tenth since the program began in the spring of 2002. Past topics have included molecular targets for cancer, epidemiology, nutrition, cancer vaccines, and statistics.
NCI plans to make the seminars monthly events, holding them in cities across the country in partnership with NCI-designated Cancer Centers. Past seminars have been held in the Washington, D.C., area. By holding the seminars in other cities, NCI hopes to reach a larger audience and strengthen ties with media across the country.
The next seminar, "Natural Products for Cancer," will be held on November 18 at NCI's Natural Products Branch in Frederick, Md., about 35 miles north of the main NIH campus. Scientists in this branch screen and analyze terrestrial and marine-based compounds and determine whether they have anticancer properties. For example, paclitaxel (Taxol), a drug used to treat several cancers, was developed from the bark of the Pacific yew tree. (See NCI Cancer Bulletin, Aug. 17, 2004.) Drs. Gordon Cragg and David Newman will explain how NCI collects natural specimens and tests their potential as cancer treatments. The seminar will also feature a tour of the biorepository and cancer cell line screening centers on the Frederick campus.
Seminars for 2005 are tentatively scheduled for the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, the USC/Norris Cancer Center in Los Angeles, and the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia on topics ranging from cancer health disparities to clinical trials enrollment.