Wednesday, September 29, 2004

News: Cancer center to focus its efforts on prevention

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at

Tuesday, September 21, 2004
By Michelle K. Massie, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute has established one of the first centers in the country to examine how to protect individuals and the community at large from environmental factors that can cause cancer.

"The center will provide people with information about the goods and the bads," said Devra Davis, an epidemiologist, environmental expert and author who will direct the Environmental Oncology Center.

"The good is what people can do to prevent the chance of getting cancer or having it recur. The bad is things to avoid in their lives that cause cancer."

Davis is the author of "When Smoke Ran Like Water: Tales of Environmental Deception and the Battle Against Pollution," a National Book Award finalist that centered on the smog that killed 20 residents of her hometown, Donora, in 1948.

Davis said she began thinking about establishing such a center a year ago, when her mother died of cancer. Her father had previously died of cancer as well. She was impressed by the care her mother received at the Hillman Cancer Center and, though her mother's cancer was age-related, she wondered if more could be done to promote the reduction of risk factors related to cancer.
Davis hopes the center will empower individuals to take control of their health by offering preventive measures to fight cancer.

"We've done a really good job of telling people about their personal responsibilities to combat cancer -- don't smoke, don't drink a lot, exercise more, stop questionable sexual practices," she said.

"But we haven't done a good job of identifying the things that affect our environment and contribute to cancer -- air pollution, diesel exhaust, by-products of gas stations and dry cleaners."

The prevention-focused center will feature four major components: basic research, molecular epidemiology, environmental assessment and control, and community and professional education and public policy.

Through its research and outreach, the center will serve as a tool to educate and change the behaviors of individuals and institutions, and affect public policy. One of the first projects conducted by the center will study why African-American women under 40 develop breast cancer twice as frequently as white women.

The center will also collaborate on projects with the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, where Davis has been appointed professor of epidemiology.