One of the world’s leading cancer prevention researchers spoke at the 2015 UT Health Cancer Conference on Saturday at the UT Health Northeast.
The keynote speaker, Dr. Otis Brawley, is the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.
The lecture centered around Brawley’s belief that screening can often do more harm than good. He also spoke at length about differences in treatment levels available depending on race and income.
“In the United States of America, you are better off with the more advanced disease (colon cancer) with insurance, versus the less advanced disease without insurance,” Brawley said.
“When I was in St. Bernard Parish, I was in the military and our motto was, ‘we leave no American behind.’ I just told you, we’re leaving Americans behind.”
Brawley spent 30 years in the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and returned to St. Bernard Parish during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, for which he was presented the key the parish.
Brawley also took the topic of unnecessary testing to task.
“X-ray screening did not help the population at all; in fact, it may have hurt the population. But we did it throughout the 1960s,” he said. “The lesson is, we should never do a screening test until we find out if it is truly beneficial.”
Brawley said the reason for the increase was residual scars from infections, tuberculosis or other factors showing up, which led to doctors performing unneeded biopsies and scopes of the lungs.
“A number of things that look like cancer are never genomically programmed to kill,” he said.
The same issues have held true for mammograms. Brawley was quick not to discount the procedure, but reiterated that patients need to understand the risks of follow-ups if a mass is detected.
“We need a better test ” Brawley said of mammograms, noting that the most common follow-up is often an invasive biopsy.
“A lot of people think we should screen for everything, the answer is no,” he said.
He also pointed out the stool blood test is the most effective method of detection for colon cancer, rather than having a risky colonoscopy at scheduled intervals.
The conference saw a crowd made up of medical professionals, at-risk individuals and cancer survivors all wanting to learn more, from some of the top minds in the field of prevention.
The day started with a move from the amphitheater to a conference room on the third floor due to a power outage caused by Friday’s storm. While waiting to register, a group of cancer survivors sat in the cafeteria discussing their history with cancer. The resounding consensus was that they had already beat cancer, but learning as much as possible about prevention was vital.
“We actually have a great deal of data that shows weight gain after treatment increases risk of the cancer coming back,” Dr. Brawley said in an interview.
Brawley said data shows that the most important prevention measures are keeping diet to a normal caloric intake, weight loss and smoking cessation.
Later in the day, Dr. Ed Sauter, director of UT Health Northeast Cancer Treatment and Prevention Center discussed the importance of diet and nutrition.
Dr. Jeff Jacobson, of the Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, spoke about the new role of vaccines are playing in cancer prevention.
Dr. Brawley’s other accomplishments include:
Professor of Hematology and Oncology
Medical Director, Georgia Cancer Center for Excellence at Grady Memorial Hospital
Associate Director for cancer detection, control, and intervention, Winship Cancer Institute
Emory Healthcare Network Physician
Deputy director for cancer control at Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University.
He has also held other roles with the cancer society, co-chaired the Surgeon General’s Task Force on Cancer Health Disparities and filled a variety of capacities at the National Cancer Institute, according to CNN, where he serves as a medical consultant.