Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A World of Limitless Possibilities

Last night, the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center hosted "Progress & Promise," its annual address to the community. This is a chance for the general public to hear about the advancements made at the Cancer Center during the past year, as well as future plans for 2012 and beyond.

This year's program highlighted two important aspects of the Cancer Center. The first being that 2011 marked the center's 40th anniversary. While the seeds of UAB's cancer program were first planted in 1968 with the death of Governor Lurleen B. Wallace from cancer, the Cancer Center really took shape in 1971 when President Richard Nixon declared war on cancer by signing the National Cancer Act. This piece of legislation established "comprehensive" cancer centers that would be at the forefront of cancer research, treatment and education. UAB was designated one of the first of these centers, and it has maintained that prestigious status ever since.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What We Know About Cancer

A new study in the British Journal of Cancer has reported that more than 60 percent of cancer cases in Great Britain can be prevented by simple lifestyle changes. Those numbers apply to those of us here "across the pond" as well.

We know that at least 70 percent of cancer cases in the United States can be prevented by lifestyle modifications, such as eating more fruits and vegetables, increasing physical activity, and reducing or, even better, eliminating tobacco use. This is especially important for those of us in Alabama, which ranks seventh in the nation for cancer mortality with 211.3 cancer deaths per 100,000 people.

During this time of year, when we all make resolutions to improve ourselves, let's make one to apply what we know and end cancer as a public health problem.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Unsung Heroes

November is another busy month in terms of cancer awareness, as it is both Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month and Lung Cancer Awareness Month. But it's also another awareness month that I think is particularly appropriate to recognize during this week of Thanksgiving, and that is National Family Caregivers Month.

Since 1997, every U.S. president has issued a proclamation recognizing family caregivers to raise awareness and increase support for the vital roles these individuals play in society. According to the National Family Caregivers Association, more than 65 million Americans provide care for loved ones with a chronic illness, disability or the frailties of old age. This certainly includes cancer.

I've often spoken of the importance of a support system for cancer patients. While their medical treatment team is obviously important, the support system of family, friends and other loved ones is also essential. It is those caregivers who know the patient most intimately and can provide perspectives and details that we as medical professionals may not be able to.

So as Thanksgiving approaches, and we take time to consider what we have to be thankful for, take a moment to thank the millions of people who make personal sacrifices to care for others. In many ways, they are unsung heroes.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Too Much Pink? Or Not Enough?

As Breast Cancer Awareness Month comes to a close, it's been incredibly rewarding to see the sheer number of pink events that have occurred across our community this year. It seems that October gets "pinker" every year, which I think is a very great thing.

But for some, the question has arisen: Is there too much pink, and is it glamorizing breast cancer? To answer the first part of that question, I say no. The amount of awareness generated by pink events is tremendous, and even more importantly, the amount of research dollars raised has allowed us to make significant advancements in the understanding and treatment of the disease. As I've said many times before, research is the foundation for eliminating cancer, and without it, all cancers - including breast cancer - would be a death sentence, like they were just a few decades ago.

As for whether breast cancer is becoming glamorous, it is important to remember the realities of this disease. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 230,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2011, and more than 39,000 deaths will occur because of it. And while the overall five-year survival rate is around 89 percent, it is still the second-leading cause of cancer death among women (after lung cancer).

I do, however, encourage you to do your research to make sure your donations go to the right cause or organization, such as the American Cancer SocietySusan G. Komen for the Cure, or us at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, where 100 percent of your donation will go directly toward research.

So, is there too much pink? No, there isn't. But we need more colors! For instance, November is both lung cancer and pancreatic cancer awareness month. Wouldn't it be great to see Birmingham covered in pearl for lung cancer and purple for pancreatic cancer? Or in teal for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in September? Or dark blue for March's Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month? We should not, and must not, limit cancer awareness for one month out of the year.

Cancer is a 24-7-365 fight, and we need to be all in this together. I thank you for your support!

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Rare Visionary

Like many people, I was saddened to hear the news of Steve Jobs passing away last week after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is truly a rare cancer - a person has only about a one in 76 chance of developing it in his or her lifetime. But though its incidence is uncommon, it is one of the most deadly types of cancer. With a 95 percent mortality rate, pancreatic cancer is the fourth-leading cause of cancer death in the United States.

These survival rates are so poor because the disease is often not diagnosed until its later stages, as the few symptoms it exhibits don't usually appear early. Only five percent of pancreatic cancer patients survive five years after diagnosis.

But there is some hope, and we are making strides in understanding this disease. The UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center is one of the few institutions in the nation to hold a SPORE (Specialized Program of Research Excellence) in pancreatic cancer from the National Cancer Institute. Through this prestigious grant, we are examining new and innovative treatments developed here in our laboratories and developing them for use in our patient clinics. Our SPORE gives us a tremendous opportunity to make real progress in the diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic cancer.

That Mr. Jobs was able to fight this particular cancer as long as he did puts him in rare company. He was a visionary whose groundbreaking ideas changed the world we live in. I hope that the research we do at the Cancer Center will do the same - by eliminating cancer as a public health problem.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Big News During a Busy Month

October has gotten off to an extremely busy start here at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center! We began the month by announcing the renewal of our National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation as a "comprehensive" cancer center - a status that we have maintained for 40 years.

Our NCI designation is what sets us apart in our state and region. We are the only comprehensive cancer center in Alabama, and the only one in the Deep South area that stretches from South Carolina to Louisiana and Arkansas. To maintain this designation, we must undergo a rigorous and extensive review process every five years in which members of our peer institutions across the country travel to our center to examine every aspect of our research enterprise.

During our most recent review, we received an excellent rating, with special emphasis placed on our community outreach and population-based studies and our translational research (moving scientific findings from the laboratory setting to the patient bedside). Our renewed grant is $27.5-million for the next five years, which allows us to maintain and grow our infrastructure that allows our scientists to conduct the cutting-edge research that we are known for.

On Monday,  to kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Birmingham News "turned pink" for the second year in an effort to increase cancer awareness. This year, the paper extended its coverage to all cancers, and not just breast cancer. I was especially pleased to see that our Cancer Center was featured prominently in several stories.

Of course, with this being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there are lots of events happening in our community to support this cause. Our friends and partners at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama have a tremendous number of events happening in October, from motorcycle rides to shopping nights to a restaurant week to pink ribbon bagels. I encourage you to visit their website or the Cancer Center's for a listing of all the great community events that you can become a part of!

We must remember that awareness for ALL cancers is a year-round activity, and the support of our community is critical in helping us achieve our mission of eliminating cancer as a public health problem. On behalf of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, I thank you for your support.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Recognizing a Global Threat

This past week, I traveled to New York City to attend a United Nations General Assembly meeting. More than 22 heads of state, including President Obama, were in the city as well. The security was incredible; police and barricades were everywhere, and I had to go through metal detectors and X-rays to enter my hotel. Having just recognized the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, it was obviously that the impact of that terrible day will obviously be felt for decades, if not centuries, to come.

But it was another threat to our society that was discussed at this U.N. meeting – non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which were recognized as a threat to global health. Each year, NCDs kill 36 million people worldwide. This new focus on the threat of NCDs, which include cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke, is critical to worldwide health.

The economic consequences of NCDs are staggering. Cumulative losses for low and middle income countries are estimated to surpass $7 trillion. Population-based measures such as reducing tobacco use through taxation and enacting clean indoor air laws, as well as reducing unhealthy eating and physical inactivity, could be delivered to these countries at a cost of about 40 cents per person per year. The same principles can be applied in the United States for about $3 per person per year. That’s a bargain if I ever saw one!

It is time for us to elevate prevention of these diseases to a new level. We owe it to ourselves to do so.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

All Together Making a Difference

I have spoken many times about the importance of federal funding for cancer research, which is critical to our success in the fight against this disease. Today, the American Association for Cancer Research released a landmark report, the AACR Cancer Progress Report 2011, which is a call to action for the general public and lawmakers to intensify their efforts in supporting cancer and biomedical research.

The report highlights all the progress that we have made in the 40 years since President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act on December 23, 1971. What used to be a death sentence is now, in many cases, a very manageable disease, as evidenced by the more than 12 million cancer survivors living in the United States today.

But there is still work to be done. In the United States alone, more than 570,000 people died from cancer in 2010. That's more than one person every minute of every day. And that is far too many.

I urge you to read the AACR report, which you can find here. I also encourage you to support cancer research by making a donation to the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, where 100 percent of your money will go toward research, or by contacting your congressional representative and urging them to increase the government's support in the fight against cancer. It will take all of us working together to make a difference and beat this disease.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Firefighters Fighting Cancer

Yesterday, I had a wonderful opportunity to meet with some special men who are raising awareness of women's cancers in a unique way.

The "Pink Heals" tour made a stop at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center yesterday to kick off a statewide "Cares Enough to Wear Pink" t-shirt campaign. The Pink Heals tour is a a national non-profit led by firefighters who bring awareness to all women’s cancers by touring the country in pink firetrucks and pink uniforms. The tour’s mission is to celebrate women by wearing “her color,” to fight cancer alongside women and to help local non-profits raise money and awareness.

During their stop at the Cancer Center, these firefighters visited with cancer patients and community members, posing for photos and sharing their stories. As part of the tour, people can even sign the firetrucks with their own inspirational messages. I was happy to add my name to that list, and I was pleased to see such an enthusiastic response from everyone who came out to meet the firefighters.

Special thanks to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama for coordinating this great event, and thank you to these brave men who are working so hard to increase awareness for women's cancers. 

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Funding Research Saves Lives

Yesterday, the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center hosted some of Alabama's congressional delegation staff for a briefing on the importance of sustained funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for cancer research. This event was co-hosted by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS-CAN) and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB).

We collectively briefed the staffers on the important role that the Cancer Center plays nationally in translational cancer research (moving findings from the laboratory bench to the patient bedside) and how NIH funding not only sustains our advances in cancer research, but also provides significant economic impact to our city and region.

Speakers included Robert Morris, Vice President of Health Initiatives for the American Cancer Society's Mid-South Division; Dr. Richard Marchase, Vice President of Research and Economic Development at UAB; Molly Daniels, Deputy President of ACS-CAN; Dr. Warner Huh, a Cancer Center gynecologic oncologist; and Dr. Carol Garrison, UAB President.

We also had a very passionate and excellent presentation by Allison Lancaster, a cervical cancer survivor from Dothan, who spoke about how important research was to her during her cancer experience. Ms. Lancaster is a perfect example of the power of research and why we as cancer researchers do the work we do - to save lives.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Heading South: Colorectal Cancer Rates Decrease, But Not Much

A new study this week revealed that fewer people are being diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and the number of people dying from the disease is decreasing as well. This is due in large part to an increase in the number of people getting screened, as well as reducing or eliminating risk factors such as smoking and obesity.

The news for us in the South, however, is not quite as good. The highest rates of colorectal cancer deaths are in the South and Appalachia. While death rates fell by as much as 33 percent in several Northeastern states, the decrease was only 15 percent or less in six Southern states, including Alabama.

Why is this the case? There are several reasons. Southern states are generally poorer than Northern states, and they tend to have more residents without health insurance who may forgo the regular screening that experts recommend for people over age 50. Southerners are also more likely to be obese and to smoke. Alabama is actually the second fattest state in the nation, with a 32.3 percent obesity level. Of the 10 states with the highest obesity rates, nine are in the South.

The UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center is committed to addressing disparities such as these. Our location in the heart of the Deep South makes us a natural leader in developing research and delivery programs to understand and eliminate cancer health disparities. Our Deep South Network for Cancer Control has been quite active and successful in making progress in these arena among minority populations. We have recently begun expanding our research efforts in obesity to better understand the connection between nutrition and cancer. This work is being led by world-renowned nutrition scientist Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, Ph.D, who joined the Cancer Center in 2010.

Rest assured that our scientists are working every day toward our goal of eliminating cancer as a public health problem. I truly believe that this will soon be a reality.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Exporting Expertise

Yesterday, the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center unveiled the UAB Cancer Care Network, an affiliation between the Cancer Center and community cancer centers and hospitals in Alabama and Georgia that provides access to the latest discoveries in cancer research and offers an unmatched level of expert cancer treatments in those communities. This is an incredibly exciting initiative that will allow us to bring leading-edge care to these communities, giving patients an opportunity to stay close to home while giving doctors and nurses access to leading cancer research.

Comprehensive cancer centers, such as ours at UAB, offer the highest levels of research and patient care. We set the standards that community hospitals follow. Our goal with the UAB Cancer Care Network is to make that expertise and knowledge available to every man and woman in our region.

One of the most important aspects of the network is that cancer patients at our partner hospitals will have access to the Cancer Center’s vast research enterprise, including our clinical trials that often feature therapies developed at UAB and unavailable elsewhere. The network allows us to bring all of these resources to patients while allowing them to stay close to home and their support system, which is so crucial.

I hope you will learn more about the UAB Cancer Care Network, and as always, thank you for supporting YOUR UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bridging the Gap

While progress is being made in the fight against cancer, a new report from the American Cancer Society shows that there are still disparities in cancer death rates between people of lower and higher socioeconomic statuses.

Using education as a measuring stick, the study found that people with a high school education or less died at a rate of up to five times higher than those with at least four years of college education. Among men, those with less education died of cancer at rates more than two and a half times than those of men with college degrees. These numbers among women were almost identical.

Why is this the case? Studies have shown that people with less education - often those in lower socioeconomic situations - are more likely to engage in risky health behaviors, such as smoking, poor nutrition and lack of physical activity. Likewise, these populations are less likely to have access to the care they need and screenings for early detection.

It is our duty to continue to address these disparities, which has been a longstanding commitment of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. While we launch new research and discover new treatments, we must also look for ways to deliver all of these discoveries to every single person, regardless of where they are in life.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Celebrating Survivors, Celebrating Life

Tomorrow, June 4, 2011, we at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center - along with several other cancer-related organizations across Birmingham - will celebrate Cancer Survivors Day. The National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation defines a "survivor" as anyone living with a history of cancer, from the moment of diagnosis through the remainder of life.

When I first start treating cancer patients 30 years ago, a cancer diagnosis was one of the most devastating things a patient could hear. At that time, the five-year survival rate was only 45 percent - meaning that less than half of people diagnosed with cancer would still be alive five years later.

Fortunately, advances in research and improved treatments have caused that number to steadily increase over the years. Today, the five-year survival rate across all cancers is 65 percent. Statistics have also shown that since 1991, every day approximately 350 people become cancer survivors who would have died of the disease in years prior. Of course, we are still working to raise those numbers, but this is a long way from where we once were.

Cancer Survivors Day is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the more than 11 million Americans who are survivors thanks to the hard work of scientists, physicians, nurses and other health care professionals across the nation. If you are a survivor, or if you're family has been touched by cancer, I invite you to come celebrate with us at the Pepper Place Saturday Market, beginning at 7 a.m. We will have live music, dancing, children's activities, cooking demonstrations, educational activities and much more.

Someone diagnosed with cancer today is much more likely to survive than die of the disease, and if that's not a reason to celebrate, I don't know what is! I hope you'll join us to Celebrate Life!

-Ed Partridge, M.D.  


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fun in the Sun?

With Memorial Day this weekend, thousands of Americans will be taking to the lakes, rivers and beaches for some fun in the sun. Unfortunately, many of them will return with an unwanted souvenir - a severe sunburn.

With May also being Skin Cancer Awareness Month, this is the perfect opportunity for us to educate ourselves on the basics of sun safety. There are several things you can do to avoid getting burned.

  • Use sunscreen - and a lot of it. Sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of at least 30 should be liberally applied before going into the sun, and then reapplied every two hours or more often when getting wet. The higher the SPF, the better, and you should ideally use a sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Limit your exposure to the sun. The hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. are when the sun is at its most intense. If possible, minimize your time in the sun during that time.
  • Wear protective clothing. While covering up exposed parts of the body works best, that's often extremely uncomfortable during the summer heat. However, a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses can be helpful, and clothing with built-in ultraviolet protection is also available.

We all want to have fun in the sun, but it's important to do it responsibly. A tan simply isn't worth the risk of getting skin cancer. For more information and sun safety tips, visit the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

May is Oncology Nurses Month

During May, in addition to Cancer Research Month, we also celebrate Oncology Nurses Month. Nurses are such an important part of the treatment process, and we couldn't do the work that we do without them.

The UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center is home to some of the best and most dedicated oncology nurses anywhere. Take, for instance, Faye Williams, who has worked in our inpatient oncology unit since 1997 and makes sure that the unit has everything it needs to provide the best possible care for patients. Or Michael Bowen, in our Hematology-Oncology Clinic, who meets with patients one-on-one to assist with any problems or questions they may have and who also teaches a wilderness life support class in his spare time. I could go on and on, as these are just two examples of the many outstanding nurses we have here at the Cancer Center.

 I hope you will join me in saying to all oncology nurses out there, THANK YOU!

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cancer Cures Need Cancer Research

May is National Cancer Research Month, and we at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center are taking this opportunity to recognize all of our scientists who work every day toward our goal of eliminating cancer as a major public health problem.

I say "all" of our scientists, because cancer research is truly a team effort. From the basic scientists who nurture the research in its earliest stages to the clinician-scientists who take the lead in translating those laboratory discoveries into treatments for patients, cancer research is a long and strenuous process.

Research is critical to finding a cure. Every treatment starts in a lab. Take, for example, a drug called tigatuzumab. This is an antibody that was developed right here at the Cancer Center, and after years of testing in the lab and in preclinical models, we have now launched a nationwide clinical trial to offer the drug to patients with triple negative breast cancer. This is incredibly exciting, and seeing work like this come to fruition is the reward of conducting research.

That's just one example of the Cancer Center's research success, and I encourage you to visit our website to learn more or to make a gift to support research. We have some of the best and brightest minds in the country working around the clock to find the next generation of cancer cures. I salute those in the laboratories and the clinics and everywhere in between for the long hours they put in and the sacrifices they make for their work. I think I speak for everyone who has been touched by cancer when I say: THANK YOU!

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo for a Cause

Tonight, May 5th, is the 5th annual Fiesta Ball, hosted by the Young Supporters Board of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. This is a fun and festive evening with Mexican food, drinks and live music, and an event that I look forward to every year.

This year, however, our hearts and minds are certainly with all of those in our community affected by last week's devastating tornados. So while we celebrate Cinco de Mayo and our progress in the fight against cancer, we're also taking this opportunity to help tornado victims across Alabama. Tonight we will be collecting toiletries, cleaning supplies and bottled water to be donated to the Salvation Army for their local relief efforts. For those who bring a donation to the Fiesta Ball, they will receive $5 off the ticket price.

I encourage you to join us at Innovation Depot tonight at 6 p.m. for what is truly a great event. The money we raise will benefit young cancer scientists at UAB, and we will also have a silent auction filled with fabulous items to raise money for the board's Patient and Family Services Committee.

I am always amazed and proud of the passion and energy that the Young Supporters Board has for the fight against cancer. These young professionals are leading the way and helping us find a cure. I hope you will join us in celebrating for a cause.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Recognizing Differences

Deep South Network team members gather in Birmingham
to discuss cancer disparities.
As we recognize National Minority Cancer Awareness Week this week, I am reminded that one of the failures of our nation and current health-care system is the unequal delivery of our medical discoveries to all segments of the population. While new discoveries and research are helping us make a difference in the fight against cancer, we must also be aware that delivering these discoveries differently causes cancer health disparities. We must remember that minorities suffer a disproportionate share of the cancer burden, as do segments of the population that are less educated, have lower income and/or no health insurance.

Cancer death rates in African Americans and other minority populations are often substantially higher. Reasons for this are fairly clear, as these populations are less likely to get age-appropriate cancer screenings, most likely to engage in activities that increase risk (such as tobacco use, unhealthy eating or lack of physical activity) and are less likely to get high-quality treatment when cancer is diagnosed. Poverty, low education and lack of insurance contribute substantially to these differences.

The UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center has a long history of working in communities and in the laboratory to understand and eventually eliminate cancer disparities. To do so requires partnerships with communities to assist them in helping to increase screening rates and physical activity and encourage healthy eating.

We have major community-based programs in the Mississippi Delta, the Alabama Black Belt and inner-city Birmingham to do just that. Through our Deep South Network for Cancer Control, we have already demonstrated that these partnerships can close the gap in screenings. Building trust, relationships and infrastructure in these communities allows us to effectively export cancer knowledge.

The Cancer Center serves a region of the country with a large African-American population and a rapidly growing Hispanic population. Because of this, we are determined to eliminate cancer disparities in Alabama and beyond.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cancer Rates Are Dropping, But There's Still Work to Be Done

A joint report on national cancer statistics recently revealed that rates of death in the United States from all cancers for men and women continued to decline between 2003 and 2007, the most recent reporting period available. This is according to the latest Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, which is published by researchers from the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Cancer Society.

The report also finds that the combined overall rate of new cancer diagnoses for men and women decreased an average of slightly less than 1 percent per year for the same period. The drop in cancer death rates continues a trend that began in the early 1990s.

While this is obviously positive news, there is still a great deal of work left to be done. Alabama has one of the highest rates of cancer mortality in the nation. In 2010, Alabama was estimated to have had 23,640 new cases of cancer and 10,150 deaths from the disease, excluding basal- and squamous-cell skin cancers.

Take, for example, lung cancer. Alabama has one of the highest rates of this disease in the nation, yet we as a state are doing very little to address this. Lung cancer deaths in Alabama could be significantly reduced by enacting a statewide smoke-free environment while also substantially raising the tobacco tax. This would potentially be one of the most impactful sets of laws that our state legislature could enact.

We are proud that the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center is at the forefront in leading the fight against cancer. As one of only 40 comprehensive cancer centers in the United States, we are able to contribute significantly to the discoveries that are helping to lower cancer rates. Our scientists are working every day to make our vision a reality. And that is a world where cancer is no longer a major public health problem.

This report is a step in the right direction. But the walk isn't over yet.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Avoiding a Colonoscopy is March Madness!

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and of all the major cancers, its screening procedures are probably some of the most feared and avoided - and misunderstood.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States and the third most common cancer in men and in women. It is estimated that more than 141,000 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2011, and approximately 49,000 will die from the disease.

The good news is that colorectal cancer rates have been steadily decreasing over the last 20 years, and that is thanks to improved screening and early detection methods. Colorectal cancer is actually one of the most highly treatable cancers when it's found early. That's because most of these cancers start out as small, non-cancerous growths known as polyps. Early testing can find and detect these polyps, allowing them to be removed before they turn cancerous. Simply put, you can stop cancer before it starts.

There are several tests for colorectal cancer, with the most common being stool tests and colonoscopies. A colonoscopy is a procedure in which a thin, lighted tube is inserted into the rectum to allow the doctor to view the inner lining of the colon. Preparing for the test is more inconvenient than the procedure itself. In fact, people who are having a colonoscopy are given medicine to help them relax; many people sleep through the exam.

Both men and women, beginning at age 50, should have a colonoscopy once every 10 years, and perhaps more often if there is a history of colorectal cancer in their family. I strongly urge you to talk with your doctor or health care professional about which colorectal cancer screening procedure is right for you. Don't let a little discomfort get in the way of saving your life.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Smoke Is Clearing?

A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association that was released today has noted the significant decrease in the prevalence of heavy smokers (20 or more cigarettes a day) in the United States. Also noted was the substantial decrease in California compared to the rest of the country. As pointed out by the report's authors, one of the reasons for the greater decline in California is comprehensive tobacco control programs.

Smoking rates in Alabama remain some of the highest in the country. We have a tremendous opportunity to save lives in Alabama (there have been substantial declines in lung cancer deaths in California) by adopting a statewide clean indoor air bill and increasing state taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products.

It is amazing that a decade into the 21st century, Alabama continues to allow its citizens to die from an addictive product, when both clean indoor air and tax increases have been shown to substantially reduce consumption. Now is the time to get such legislation passed.

I encourage you to contact your legislator and urge them to act on this problem. And if you or someone you know needs help to quit smoking, please visit http://www.alabamaquitnow.com/.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Nutrition Guidelines Needed for Cancer Survivors

In today's Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, Ph.D., R.D., the Associate Director for Cancer Prevention and Control at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, discusses evidence supporting nutritional recommendations for cancer survivors, of which there are more than 12 million in the United States alone.

Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight should be a high priority for survivors, including at least 30 minutes of exercise daily, a diet rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and limited consumption of red and processed meats as well as alcohol.

The impact of healthy eating and physical activity and its relation to cancer cannot be overemphasized. Evidence continues to mount that unhealthy eating, lack of physical activity and obesity are also related to the development of cancer. And with the publication today, we are even more cognizant of the role that this plays in survivorship.

As residents of the Deep South, we live in a section of the country where obesity is a significant problem, and we must all work together to begin to mitigate this epidemic.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ignite Your Inner Artist at ArtBLINK Gala!

On February 26, the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center will celebrate the culmination of our annual fundraising drive at our annual ArtBLINK Gala. This is a fun and festive event hosted by our Advisory Board, and one that is truly unique in Birmingham.

ArtBLINK features 19 artists, all of whom have strong connections to the state of Alabama, who have just 90 minutes to each create a piece of art while guests watch. Some of our artists sculpt, while others paint, in both traditional and more abstract pieces. Guests can talk to the artists while they work, ask them questions and learn more about them and their art. When the 90 minutes is up, we auction off the art.

All of the money raised from ArtBLINK and the accompanying solicitation campaign goes to the Cancer Center's Fund for Excellence, which supports high-priority areas within the Cancer Center. That includes, but is certainly not limited to, scientific research, faculty recruitment and equipment upgrades. A portion of the money raised also goes toward our patient and family assistance program so that we may help those we serve get through their cancer journey the best way they can.

The goal for ArtBLINK Gala this year is $850,000. We are approaching that goal, but we're not there quite yet. I urge you to support your UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center by making a donation or attending the ArtBLINK Gala. You can do so at the links below.

With your help, we can achieve our goal of eliminating cancer as a major public health problem.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Support the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center by making a donation!

Learn more about ArtBLINK Gala!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cancer Resolutions

Did you know that roughly 25 percent of people break their new year's resolutions within a week, and half of all resolutions are finished within six months? This is according to a study in the Los Angeles Times.

Obviously, the most popular resolutions involve improving diet and increasing exercise. And for good reason, as there's no question that doing those two things can help improve your overall health. However, many people don't realize that as many as 30 percent of all cancers are obesity-related. So diet and exercise can not only help you lose weight, but it can also lower your risk of developing cancer.

There are some other "cancer resolutions" that I encourage you to follow this year, and they have to do with screenings for early detection.

  • Get a mammogram. Women age 40 and older should have a mammogram every year and continue to do so as long as they are in good health. Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam as part of a periodic, professional health exam at least every three years.
  • Get a colonoscopy. Both men and women, beginning at age 50, should have a colonoscopy once every 10 years, and perhaps more often if there is a history of colorectal cancer in their family.
  • Get a Pap smear. Specialists recommend that women have their first Pap smears at age 21 and every one to three years afterward, depending on the person's age and medical history. When abnormalities are found early and treated properly, very few progress to cervical cancer.
  • Determine if prostate screening is right for you. Beginning at age 50, men should have a discussion with their doctor or health care professional to see if they should be screened for prostate cancer and what type of test is right for them. For men at a higher risk of the disease, those conversations should begin at age 45.
  • Stop smoking and stay away from tobacco products! Smoking causes between 80 and 90 percent of all lung cancers, and tobacco is a major cause of many types of head and neck cancer.

These are just a few ways that you can improve your health and either decrease your chances of developing cancer or increasing the chances of it being caught early. I urge you to contact your doctor or health care professional, and keep these resolutions for 2011. Simply applying the knowledge that we already know can make a huge difference.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Message from the Recent FDA Ruling: Don't Panic

This week the FDA announced that it has found a possible link between breast implants and a very rare type of cancer. According to the report, the agency documented about 60 cases of anaplastic large cell lymphoma among the five to 10 million women with implants. Based on these findings, the FDA is requiring changes to the product's labeling.

Breast implants have been scrutinized for decades, and it is the FDA's responsibility to inspect such products for public safety. However, the takeaway message from this study for women with breast implants is this: Don't panic!

To put this study in perspective: If 60 cases occurred among six million implants, that comes to a lifetime risk of one in 100,000 for this type of cancer. However, the average woman has a one in 17 lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer, regardless of whether she has implants or not.

I urge all women to monitor their breast health through self-exams and regular mammograms. For those with implants, check for any irregularities such as fluid collection around the implant, pain or breast asymmetry. The risk of developing cancer is extremely low, and these results are very early. However, I encourage women to contact their healthcare professional if they have any concerns or further questions. Keeping a watchful eye on your health is good practice, no matter what.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Long Road of Research

Dr. Chip Landen (center) with YSB members (L to R)
Gaines Livingston, Andrew Case, Sam Todd and
Walker Badham.
Today, the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center hosted our Young Supporters Board, which is comprised of young up-and-coming professionals from around Birmingham. Our guest speaker was Charles "Chip" Landen, M.D., an assistant professor in the UAB Division of Gynecologic Oncology.

Dr. Landen joined the UAB faculty in 2009, and he has quickly become one of our rising stars. Last year, he was one of only seven early career investigators nationwide to receive an inaugural Ovarian Cancer Academy Award from the U.S. Department of Defense. Dr. Landen works to identify and characterize a subpopulation of ovarian cancer cells that have enhanced ability to survive chemotherapy and cause recurrence. Understanding this class of cells may lead to discoveries of key pathways than can be targeted with novel anti-cancer therapies.

Dr. Landen's presentation today focused not only on his research, but also on his career path. I've often talked about the amount of time it takes for young scientists to actually begin their careers. It's very common: after high school, these scientists spend four years of undergraduate education, three to eight years of graduate school to get a Ph.D., then followed by another two to three years of postdoctoral training. By the time their training is complete, they're 34 years old when they land their first "real" job.

The other issue these scientists face is funding. For today's young researchers, there's only 10-percent chance that their first grants, which are essential to establishing labs and launching their studies, will be funded by federal sources. This is where groups like the Young Supporters Board come in.

In the last few years, the Young Supporters Board has established a Young Investigators Grant, which funds the work of cancer researchers who are just beginning their careers. The board has taken tremendous initiative in this endeavor, and their work is already paying off. David Schneider, Ph.D., the first grant recipient, took the board's $40,000 investment and turned it into a $1.2-million grant from the National Cancer Institute.

Dr. Landen serves as another great example of why the work of the Young Supporters Board is so important and critical to the Cancer Center's success. Our young scientists are the next generation in the fight against cancer, but they can't do it alone.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Local Work, Global Impact

Today, the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center received an extremely generous donation from one of its most loyal and longstanding community partners, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama. The BCRFA hosts events and other fundraising opportunities throughout the year, and in turn donates all of its proceeds to the Cancer Center for breast cancer research. I was extremely grateful and proud to accept their donation today of $400,000 - their largest contribution yet.

What's most amazing about the BCRFA is that it's a "homegrown" foundation. It started here in Birmingham in 1996 with two friends, Dolly O'Neal and Bruce Sokol, who met over lunch and decided to do something to raise money for breast cancer research. Thirteen weeks later, they hosted their first golf tournament, and they haven't looked back since. To date, the foundation has raised nearly $3 million for research.

To me, the BCRFA is a perfect example of a local group coming together and making a huge impact. Because the foundation's support has allowed the Cancer Center to do just that. The money they have donated has been critical in turning our breast cancer program into one of the premier research and clinical enterprises in the country. With their money, we were able to plant those seeds and grow our program into what it is today.

The support of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama is critical to our success here at the Cancer Center, and I am proud to have them as a community partner. With them at our side, we'll make a tremendous difference in the fight against breast cancer.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Alabama Gets Four F’s Again – Let’s Do Something Now!

Yesterday, the American Lung Association released a report grading states on their anti-tobacco efforts, and once again, Alabama received straight F's. 
In fact, Alabama received four F’s. If Alabama was one of your children, you might be thinking about “a trip to the woodshed.” At least that’s what would have happened to me 40-50 years ago. The entire report can be found here.
It is absolutely unbelievable that we accept 7,500 tobacco-related deaths in Alabama each year.  A statewide clean indoor air act that includes work sites, restaurants and bars would reduce this death rate significantly. These laws substantially reduce smoking rates because smoking becomes logistically more difficult, while eliminating second-hand smoke for co-workers, customers and others.
Passage of such a law does not require new appropriations or an increase in taxes. It seems like a no-brainer. We must continue to educate our legislative bodies on the importance of this legislation and how clean indoor air, increased tobacco taxes and funding of smoking cessation programs save lives. The timing seems particularly ripe for at least a comprehensive clean indoor air law for the entire state.
Let’s do something now! Contact your congressional representatives and urge them to act now!

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Survivor's Inspiring Story

Dianne Poe with six of her seven grandchildren.
Tonight I had the opportunity to meet Dianne Poe, a breast cancer survivor who was treated at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dianne was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, and ended up traveling from her hometown of Lanett, Alabama, to UAB for her treatment. Tonight, she shared her cancer journey at the Cancer Center’s annual Progress & Promise event.

As I listened to Diane tell her story, I was struck by what a courageous and inspiring person she is. Throughout her experience, she maintained a strong, positive attitude, which can be difficult to do when facing a disease such as cancer. And not only is Dianne a warm and gracious person, she’s also a perfect example of the translational research that we do here at the Cancer Center.

When Dianne came to the Cancer Center, she enrolled in a clinical trial that was born out of basic science research conducted right here in our laboratories. She was one of the first patients to enroll in this trial, and in just over a year, she was cancer-free. This is what we refer to as “translational research” – that process of taking scientific findings from the laboratory and translating them into therapies or treatments for patients in the clinic. Our ability to conduct groundbreaking and innovative translational research is one of the many things that sets the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center apart.

I’m so honored to have had the opportunity to meet and get to know Dianne tonight, and I thank her for sharing her story with me. She, along with all of our patients, is a reminder of what we at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center are working toward every day – a world where cancer is no longer a major public health problem.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Thank You for Your Support!

As we start 2011, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have supported the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center in the past year. I am so grateful for the dedication and generosity of our donors, and I can honestly say that we could not do much of the work we do at the Cancer Center without them.
Drs. Andres Forero and Tong Zhou are just two of the scientists
to have work funded by the Breast Cancer Research
Foundation of Alabama.
In 2010, charitable donations allowed us to open the much-anticipated Hazelrig-Salter Radiation Oncology Center, which is changing the way we deliver radiation therapy to our patients. We are also quickly setting the standards for the research and treatment of breast cancer, thanks to one of our community partners, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama. This organization works tirelessly to raise money for breast cancer research, which it donates entirely to our center. They have provided us with critical seed money to investigate drugs and launch basic science research, and we are now finally moving those results out of the laboratory and into patients. In short, their investment is paying off.
I do want to stress, however, that whether a donation is $5 or $5000, every dollar makes a difference. For every dollar donated to the Cancer Center, we can leverage it for up to $16 from outside sources, making the Cancer Center a good investment.
The support of our community is critical to our success, and I thank every one of our donors for their generosity. I encourage anyone interested in learning more about the Cancer Center to attend Progress & Promise, our annual report to the community, on January 6 at 5:30 p.m. at the Alys Stephens Center. There, I will be sharing in more depth the progress we’ve made in the fight against cancer and what is we’re working on for the future.
Again, thank you for your support.
-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Colorectal Cancer News - Guest Blog by Dr. Martin Heslin

Martin Heslin, M.D.
An upcoming study being published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reveals that personalized electronic messages sent to patients who are overdue for screenings, or mailings targeted to patients with expired orders for colonoscopies, may each increase colorectal cancer screening rates over the short term. These findings will be published in the April 11 print issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Studies have shown that colorectal cancer screening detects cancers at more curable early stages and reduces colorectal cancer mortality. However, these methods remain underused—as many as half of the 90 million Americans who would benefit have not been screened.

Colorectal cancer screening is an important public health initiative, regardless of the mechanism of screening.  This study has shown that the introduction of “personalized tele-medicine” to remind people to get screened resulted in a short-term increase in screening rates – albeit in an already successfully screened population (82%).  This is one example of the ability to use technology to improve cure rates of a cancer that is extremely curable if caught early. Inclusion of personalized screening messages in the implementation of the electronic health record should be a major focus since it is cheap, direct and appears to be effective.

Martin Heslin, M.D., is Associate Director of Clinical Programs for the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and director of UAB’s Multidisciplinary Gastrointestinal Oncology Clinic. Dr. Heslin specializes in the research and treatment of gastrointestinal cancers and soft-tissue sarcomas.