Bringing Patients to the Table - Literally - to Talk Cancer Prevention

By Courtney McCrimmon

In a new approach to cancer research funding, doctors, researchers, nurses and patients from Magee-Womens Research Institute and Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC came together this month to discuss the direction of obesity-related cancer prevention. The dinner marked the first time Pittsburgh-area cancer patients have been invited to participate as stakeholders to address major cancer research concerns.

The group explored different ways to help endometrial cancer patients, and those at risk for the disease, reduce their risk for recurrence or developing the disease in the first place. Because obesity is the leading risk factor for endometrial cancer, the meeting focused primarily on weight loss, exercise and physician-patient communication as tools for cancer prevention.

Endometrial cancer begins in the layer of cells that forms the lining (the endometrium) of the uterus. Occasionally it is referred to as uterine cancer. Endometrial cancer is often detected at an early stage because it frequently produces abnormal bleeding, which women report to their doctor. If caught early, endometrial cancer can often be cured through surgery alone.

“Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S., and it is associated with a wide range of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and stroke,” said Faina Linkov, assistant professor in the division of hematology and oncology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the dinner’s coordinator. “While physicians generally do a good job of discussing the risks between heart disease and obesity, they don’t often address its link to cancer, particularly endometrial cancer. We want women to understand there is an established link between cancer and obesity, and we want to help them control this risk factor.”

In addition to discussing the roles weight control and exercise play in cancer prevention, dinner attendees took preliminary steps in formulating research questions that Magee physicians and researchers will use to inform future grant applications. According to Dr. Linkov, involving patients in the research process from its inception could potentially impact cancer research and care.

“We are witnessing dramatic shifts in the practice of medicine,” Dr. Linkov said.  “More and more, patients and patient advocacy groups are engaged in helping us formulate research questions, monitoring research progress and sharing results throughout the community. We want to make sure our patients and community members are engaged participants in our quest to understand the causes of and treatments for cancer.”