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.