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We are making progress

September 30, 2021 | Jennifer Pietenpol

At Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, we have multiple research laboratories dedicated to specific types of cancer, where investigators delve into cancer etiologies and search for better treatments. For example, a laboratory group led by Dr. Michael Savona focuses on preventing and treating blood cancers, such as leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome.

The cover story in this issue of Momentum is about how Dr. Savona — working in unison with other Vanderbilt-Ingram researchers — is developing new treatments for these blood cancers while ultimately aiming to find preventive treatments to stop these diseases before they start.

You don’t have to be a researcher to prevent cancer. Because of recent guideline changes, more people can now prevent colorectal cancer and detect lung cancer at its earliest stages. This year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force lowered the recommended age for colonoscopies, a screening procedure that simultaneously allows doctors to remove polyps before they become cancerous. The Task Force also lowered the recommended age and smoking history for lung screenings, which are low-dose CT scans. These recommendations are significant because insurers follow them in making coverage decisions. Unfortunately, however, people may be delaying these potentially life-saving procedures because of the COVID-19 pandemic. An article about these guideline changes features two cancer patients who are glad they didn’t let the pandemic stop them from undergoing screenings last year.

All populations must benefit from advancements that give people better odds of surviving cancer. A profile on Dr. Consuelo Wilkins details why she’s passionate about her work at Vanderbilt to address health disparities. Another leader on this front is Dr. Bill Blot, who revealed how and why cancer disproportionately affects Black people in the South through his research with the Southern Community Cohort Study. He is profiled in an article that celebrates his career accomplishments. Although he retired this year, you can read about how he will keep advancing cancer research with a lasting gift from him and his wife, Frances Blot.

We honor Dr. Pierre Massion, a world-renowned lung cancer researcher who was taken from us far too soon, with remembrances and a photographic tribute chronicling his time at Vanderbilt.

Our Innovations feature showcases the Vanderbilt Pancreas Center and how Dr. Kamran Idrees can do surgery on pancreatic cancer tumors that other surgeons deem unresectable. The center is a multidisciplinary clinic that prioritizes time to treatment, offers second opinion sessions, and has a nurse navigator to assist patients personally.

We are making progress on many fronts to lessen the burden of cancer. You can do your part by undergoing recommended screenings and encouraging your family and friends to do the same. Please ask your primary care physician about which cancer screenings are appropriate for you. Vanderbilt offers a safe environment, with stringent infection-prevention protocols, for several types of cancer screenings. Don’t delay a procedure that could save your life.