05/17/07 — Cancer doctor: Efforts to beat disease continue across U.S.

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Cancer doctor: Efforts to beat disease continue across U.S.

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on May 17, 2007 1:57 PM

The 18th Annual Relay for Life planned for Friday and Saturday at Wayne Community College has one aim -- raise money to help fight cancer.

Last year, Wayne County residents raised more than $600,000 to contribute to cancer research. Organizers of this year's event hope to top that figure.

The event has become a local phenomenon, drawing thousands of people out for entertainment, food and fellowship. But its aim is deadly serious.

Dr. James Atkins of Southeastern Medical Oncology Center is an expert in the field of cancer treatment.

Atkins said the reason so many people get behind the relay is that cancer strikes so many people.

"If you live long enough, there's a significant risk that you're going to get cancer. It behooves all of us to want cancer knowledge and cure rates to improve," Atkins said.

The four major types of cancer are prostate, breast, lung and colon cancer, Atkins said.

Prostate cancer affects one out of every 10 men, with black men at a higher risk.

"The hope has been that we can find ways to prevent prostate cancer. There is an ongoing study and it will become available in 2013. Then we will have the answer as to whether any of the things they're looking at right now can actually prevent prostate cancer," Atkins said.

For women, the biggest threat is breast cancer. One out of eight women will get the disease. As with prostate cancer, the odds of getting the disease go up if there is a history of the disease in your family.

"Breast cancer is more common in white Americans than black Americans," Atkins said. "But black Americans usually have a more advanced disease, and they don't do as well. Their survival rate is less. "The exact reasons for that we don't know. There could be genetic or social factors. There could be all sorts of different factors that we don't understand."

Both men and women are equally affected by lung cancer. Atkins said that 95 percent of lung cancer occurs in people who use tobacco.

Lung cancer is especially deadly, he said.

"The problem with lung cancer is that if you take all lung cancer patients together, the survival rate is still not very good," Atkins said. "It's still less than a year. What we want to do is try to find ways to prevent lung cancer. The best way to help prevent it is to curb the use of tobacco products."

Colon cancer also has no race nor gender bias, Atkins said.

Colon cancer could be almost completely eliminated if people would have a colonoscopy done when they reach middle age, he pointed out.

And for those who dread the idea of an invasive test, doctors have come up with a virtual colonoscopy, which is done on a CT scanner. It takes about 15 minutes and is as accurate, if not more, than a regular colonoscopy, Atkins said.

Atkins said that research has found ways to help prevent colon cancer. For example, taking an aspirin a day decreases the chance of getting colon cancer, as does taking calcium and Vitamin D.

Over the past few years, there have been many advances in cancer research, Atkins said. That is why events such as the Relay for Life are so important, he said. They help fuel the research necessary to come up with new drugs and treatments. Right now there are more than 400 potential anti-cancer drugs in development.

"It's the research involved in clinical trials that ultimately leads to curing cancer. If we don't have the research, then 10 years from now we're going to be treating cancer patients the same way we are today," he said. "The big thing is to keep research alive and move things forward."

Atkins noted that the Relay for Life not only helps raise money for research, it also serves as a way for people who have been affected by the disease to gather, share their fears and also their hopes.

"It's not just about raising money, but it's also about camaraderie and spirit and how wonderful Wayne County is," Atkins said. "I hope people go out to the relay just to enjoy the fellowship. You'll be amazed at how many of your friends and neighbors you're going to see there."