This month, the Prevent Cancer Foundation is proud to highlight the work of Dr. Scott Adams, a postdoctoral fellow at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington. Dr. Adams is the 2010 recipient of a partnership fellowship through the American Society of Preventive Oncology, the Prevent Cancer Foundation and ASCO. His research focuses on the impact of inflammatory bowel disease on mortality following diagnosis with colorectal cancer.
What led you to the field of colorectal cancer research?
Colorectal cancer (CRC) is one of the most common cancers in the US today. It is also one of the few for which some methods of “early detection”—in this case, colonoscopy—can detect and remove “pre-cancer,” preventing cancer from occurring at all. So, one aspect that drew me to CRC research is an interest in how this approach works in the general population. For example, does colonoscopy prevent CRC only for some types of colorectal cancer? Does it work better for some people than for others? Why? I’m not the only one who is interested in these questions, of course. These questions are being addressed by many researchers, because it is important to understand how to best apply the available tools—such as colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy and fecal occult blood testing—to prevent CRC from occurring, and to prevent death from CRC when it is diagnosed.
Tell us about your research on the impact of inflammatory bowel disease on mortality in individuals who have colorectal cancer.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic condition which can, after many years, raise the risk of colorectal cancer. Because people with IBD are at higher risk of CRC, their doctors usually recommend relatively frequent surveillance, with colonoscopy and other techniques, in order to catch cancer early if it does occur.
In this study, we are comparing people who have IBD and CRC, with people who have colorectal cancer alone. We want to know whether individuals with colorectal cancer and IBD tend to survive longer, or not, compared to those with colorectal cancer alone. If survival differs between these groups, we will then try to understand why. For example, it could be because cancer in these groups tends to be detected at a different stage; or perhaps colorectal cancer responds differently to treatments depending on whether the cancer is related to IBD.
This type of research is important because it makes sure that clinical practices for treating colorectal cancer are also effective for patients with IBD and cancer. Together with future studies, it may also suggest how colorectal cancer therapy can be tailored to individuals based on the characteristics of their disease.
How has this fellowship impacted your research on colorectal cancer?
The Fellowship has made this research possible. The support of the Fellowship has meant that I have time to focus on this project. It has also helped me to facilitate examination of medical records from patients with IBD and CRC (with their consent, of course), which has added important data.
Why is it important to fund research (removed “in the field of”) in cancer prevention and early detection?
Cancer prevention is the key to reducing suffering and death from cancer. If we can’t always prevent cancer, then early detection is probably the next best thing, because earlier cancers are usually more easily treated.
Colorectal cancer is a great example. Research has led to techniques such as colonoscopy that are very effective at preventing cancer, and fecal occult blood testing which detects cancer early. As a result, colorectal cancer incidence rates and death from colorectal cancer have decreased dramatically over the last several decades. I think that it’s important to keep the big picture in mind: no single research study is responsible for this achievement, but without support for cancer prevention and early detection research, it would not have been possible.
For more information about how you can prevent colorectal cancer, visit preventcancer.org