An innovative new initiative at the Prisma Health Cancer Institute aims to identify the links between lifestyle choices and cancer development, with the goal of eventually preventing cancer at the molecular level.
The Center for Cancer Prevention and Wellness (CCPW), a first-of-its-kind program in the Upstate, offers a two-fold approach to cancer prevention. First, CCPW aims to reduce an individual’s risk of cancer by offering free wellness screenings and suggested lifestyle modifications to reduce participants’ chances of cancer from preventable causes. But more foundationally, CCPW approaches cancer research through the lens of epigenetics, analyzing the way cells are genetically modified through daily behaviors. This approach relies on samples of participants’ genetic information, including blood, urine and cheek swabs, stored for longitudinal study. By pairing real-time information about a participant’s behavioral and environmental risk factors with his or her genetic and molecular composition, CCPW hopes to build a more comprehensive picture of an individual’s predisposition for cancer and gain broader knowledge to inform future cancer research.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that 50-70% of cancers are caused by controllable factors, such as poor diet, lack of exercise and lack of sleep. To successfully determine the relationship between lifestyle choices and cancer development, the next generation of cancer research must simultaneously monitor an individual’s modifiable behaviors and genetic composition.
“We are increasingly successful at treating cancer once identified,” said Larry Gluck, MD, medical director of the Prisma Health Cancer Institute. “However, the molecular changes and subsequent multiplication of one cell into a visual or palpable sign of cancer takes years. That uncharted middle period, while cancer is developing at a molecular level but undetectable by routine scans and testing, is the critical time to enact interventions that may be able to stop further cancer development. As we collect and study this data from CCPW, we anticipate that we will eventually be able to identify a molecular alteration in its early stages and intercede before cancer truly appears.”
Additionally, by identifying broader patterns in cancer development, the results generated by CCPW may help predict cancer risk for participants’ children and grandchildren, as well as the risk profile of the community as a whole.
CCPW participants are empowered to address their own risk factors through a free 90-minute comprehensive wellness assessment. The assessment includes a personal and family health risk analysis as well as a non-invasive body composition analysis that digitally gathers 100 data points, ranging from weight and blood pressure to percentage of body fat and muscle mass. Blood, cheek swab and urine samples are also collected for bio banking, or long-term storage of genetic material, at the Institute for Translational Oncology Research (ITOR), adjacent to the Cancer Institute. The assessment is performed by dedicated CCPW nursing staff.
Upon completion of the assessment, participants will receive recommendations to reduce their risk of cancer based on health history and behavioral and environmental factors. Recommendations may include lifestyle modifications, such as smoking cessation or weight loss, or may include screening recommendations and referrals if needed. Follow-up appointments with recommended specialists may be billed through the participant’s insurance if applicable.
Participants are encouraged to return for annual assessments to monitor health changes and progress towards overall wellness goals, ultimately working to reduce their risk of cancer from preventable causes. Annual assessments are free for all participants. The free program is funded by a $274,000 grant from the Daniel-Mickel Foundation, funds raised from the Cancer Institute Dragon Boat fundraiser and contributions of other generous donors.