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‘An incredible opportunity’ to wipe out many cancers worldwide

November 1, 2011

In 2002, Dr. Corey Casper had a staggering realization: that it might be possible to obliterate 20 percent of cancer cases in the near future, using technology and medical knowledge that are available today.

One in five cancer cases is triggered by infectious disease, and Casper knew that Hutchinson Center researchers had already helped develop a vaccine that is 98 percent effective in stopping one of those infections, the human papillomavirus, from sparking cervical cancer. Casper believed we could make similar progress against other infection-related malignancies, which together cause 1.5 million deaths each year. But he needed to find a proving ground.

So Casper took a groundbreaking trip to a country that is home to one of the world’s highest concentrations of infection-related cancers: Uganda. His first stop was the country’s lone cancer clinic, where a grim reality confronted him.

Many of the patients were children and, as Casper accompanied the doctors on their rounds, he witnessed a staggering array of cancers. Most of them had already reached advanced stages, leaving little hope. “It was a tragedy,” Casper said, “but it was one I knew we could fix.”

Cynthia Nyakato, 9, was diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma four years ago. She has returned to the Uganda Cancer Institute for another cycle of treatment. Burkitt lymphoma, both potentially fatal and disfiguring, is the most common cancer diagnosis among Ugandan children, a statistic reflected in the patient ward at the UCI. The disease is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. Currently, the five-year survival rate is less than 40 percent, but it is estimated that 85 percent of these children could be cured for less than $600 a case.

A cutting-edge research and treatment facility

The lack of quality health care in developing countries has allowed infectious diseases—and the cancers they cause—to run rampant. In fact, cancer cases in the developing world outnumber cases of HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. Since 2004, Casper and his Hutchinson Center colleagues have been collaborating with the Uganda Cancer Institute to defeat this growing epidemic.

This initiative, the UCI/Hutchinson Center Cancer Alliance, took a major step forward this month with the groundbreaking of a cutting-edge cancer training and treatment facility in Kampala. Once completed, the new Uganda Cancer Institute/Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Clinic and Training Institutewill help our researchers bring the latest treatment to a community that is in dire need while accelerating our progress against infection-related cancers worldwide.

By including amenities such as adult and pediatric cancer care clinics, the 5,600 square foot building will enable lifesaving advances by:

  • Giving thousands of patients access to the latest diagnostic technology.
  • Dramatically increasing the number of patients who can be treated.
  • Providing a state-of-the-art venue for gathering data and conducting studies.

Envisioning a world without infection-related cancers

By treating and studying patients on cancer’s frontier, Casper believes we can accelerate progress against infection-related cancers worldwide. One key element of this progress is developing cost-effective cancer treatments that are better suited to communities with limited resources.

Chemotherapy, surgery, and other traditional cancer treatments cost thousands of dollars and open the door to complications and long recovery times. Antiviral medications and vaccines—such as those used to halt cervical cancer—can be delivered at a fraction of the cost. By learning how to expand these innovative treatments, we can make cancer care affordable in developing countries and reduce the strain on health care resources in the developed world.

It’s all part of Casper’s vision of eradicating infection-related cancers and improving the lives of millions of people in the United States and around the world.

“A lot of cancer research focuses on fragments of solutions that might not materialize for decades,” Casper said, “but we already know how to prevent some infection-related cancers and we can potentially wipe out the others. It’s an incredible opportunity.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. Stephanie Stafford permalink
    December 5, 2011 12:32 pm

    I was frustrated to read that “One in five cancer cases is triggered by infectious disease”, and then read mention of just 2 diseases & their cancer connections. Are HPV + cervical ca and Burkitt lymphoma + Epstein Barr virus the only two? Are there others? Please expand this article or do a followup.

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