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Stakeholder nominations open to help guide research grant process

Do you know anyone with a strong personal interest in cancer who would like to participate in our research and training grants peer review process? Maybe you?

Candidates should have a strong personal interest in cancer research based on a personal connection to the disease, such as being a cancer survivor, having had a family member with cancer, or having acted as a caregiver.

“Stakeholders” have been an important part of the Society’s grant review process since 1999, providing a unique perspective from the cancer experience to help ensure sound research funding decisions. Many of our most outstanding volunteers have served in this role.

Being a Stakeholder requires no formal science or oncology training. About 12 to 15 stakeholders will be selected, and they will receive training before being assigned to one or more of the approximately 20 peer review committees in the Society’s Extramural Research Department. They will serve a two-year term beginning in June 2019.

Stakeholders from various interest areas join clinicians, researchers, and other scientists to review the more than 1,300 applications submitted to the American Cancer Society each year. In addition to stakeholders, each committee includes five to 20 researchers, clinicians, and other experts.

Stakeholder nominations will remain open now through September 14, 2018. Nominees will be asked to complete a short questionnaire and submit two letters of recommendation as part of the selection process. 

Interested parties can learn more about the program at cancer.org/stakeholders, or by emailing joseph.cotter@cancer.org.


  • Innovative chatbot technology implemented to increase HPV vaccine awareness

    The American Cancer Society is now using the tremendously popular Facebook Messenger to communicate with users in a new way. On July 18, the digital product team, led by Ben Kaplan and Heather Gresch, launched the ACS's first Facebook Messenger chatbot to educate parents on the importance of the HPV vaccine.

    A chatbot is a computer program powered by AI (artificial intelligence), and is used to automate specific tasks by chatting with a user over a conversational interface. The ACS chatbot has been designed to take the user through a guided learning experience to increase awareness and educate parents about the HPV vaccination as cancer prevention for their children. In addition, users are given the opportunity to get quick answers on how to make a donation, find information on various cancer types, chat with a live representative at NCIC, and more.

    This is important for ACS for a few reasons:

    • True Innovation – ACS is the first major healthcare nonprofit among our competitors to launch a chatbot on Facebook Messenger.
    • Digitizing our Mission – A strong collaboration among Cancer Control and the digital team afforded them the ability to lean in and truly start to understand how far digital tools can take the organization.
    • Consumer-First Mindset –  As the organization pushes to be more relevant in today's world, it is imperative to meet consumers where they engage daily. With Facebook being the most popular social network and Facebook Messenger having more than 1.2 billion active users, the digital team knew that Facebook would be the best platform to test on along with giving us the ability to communicate on an ongoing basis with large numbers of people.

    The team plans to review usage and engagement data over the next few weeks to determine if the chatbot's capabilities will be extended in the future for other campaigns. "We envision having a permanent chatbot on Facebook that answers basic cancer questions, while still allowing for real live chat and promotion of NCIC," said Ben.

    The chatbot is available on the American Cancer Society Facebook page. Users can access the bot on their mobile device by visiting the American Cancer Society Facebook page and clicking "Message." (Technically, the chatbot can be accessed through a desktop, but a mobile device provides the best user experience.)

  • Society publishes two new oncology textbooks

    The American Cancer Society recently published two new oncology textbooks. Ted Gansler, our strategic director, Pathology Research, served as lead editor to coordinate input from several ACS staff and volunteer leaders. The two titles are: Principles of Oncology: Prevention to Survivorship, about cancer epidemiology, biology, prevention, screening, and survivorship and Oncology in Practice: Clinical Management, which covers diagnosis and treatment of cancers.

    The textbooks are for sale on our publisher's website at wiley.com/go/ACS-books. (The text books are not available through the ACS bookstore on cancer.org or through Society Mart.) 

    More about Principles of Oncology: Prevention to Survivorship 

    This book is an ideal resource for students, researchers, and clinicians seeking a deeper understanding of cancer biology, epidemiology, prevention, screening, and follow-up. You'll see many familiar names among the chapter authors. For instance, the "Screening and Early Detection" chapter is written by 
    Robert A. SmithOtis W. Brawley, and Richard C. Wender; "The Principles and Drivers of Cancer" is authored by Charles Saxe and William C. Phelps; "Descriptive Epidemiology" is written by Rebecca L. SiegelKimberly D. Miller, and Ahmedin Jemal; the "Environmental and Occupational Carcinogens" chapter is by Elizabeth Ward; "Fundamentals of Cancer Epidemiology" is written by Susan M. Gapstur and Eric J. Jacobs; and "Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention" is by Stacey FedewaRebecca L. Siegel, Colleen DoyleMarji L. McCullough, and Alpa V. Patel.

    More about Oncology in Practice: Clinical Management

    This new textbook was designed for a wide range of students and practitioners. It is a comprehensive reference covering the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, and a range of related issues that are key to a multidisciplinary approach to cancer and critical to cancer. There are chapters on thoracic, digestive, head and neck, urinary, female and male reproductive, breast, hematologic, skin, endocrine, nervous system and eye, and bone and soft issue cancers, as well as cancers with an unknown primary site. It is written by multidisciplinary teams of medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgeons, and other specialists, reflecting day-to-day decision-making and clinical practice. Input from pathologists, radiologists, and other specialists and generalists is included wherever relevant. 

    These are not the first comprehensive oncology text books produced by ACS. They continue a tradition of 11 past titles dating back to 1963 that have guided and inspired generations of cancer care clinicians and researchers. You can see some of them in the smaller image here.

  • Watch now: Your Immune System and Cancer – The Difference Between Men and Women

    Early this year, the direct mail team put on a live, research-based webinar for select direct mail donors, and it is now available to all staff and volunteers on cancer.org.

    In the webinar, "Your Immune System and Cancer – The Difference Between Men and Women," American Cancer Society grantee Stephanie Watkins, PhD, (pictured here) explains how research has helped discover how T-cells in our immune system work differently in men and women to attack cancer tumor cells.

    Dr. Watkins also covers:

    • What immunotherapy is and how it's used to fight cancer
    • The process of moving findings from the lab to the patient
    • How stress impacts our immune system's response to cancer
    • The difference between immunotherapy and targeted therapy
    • What's next on the horizon for Dr. Watkins' research project

    The webinar was hosted by our Susanna Greer, PhD, our director of clinical cancer research, nutrition, and immunology. In addition to learning more about how our immune system fights cancer, you'll learn from Dr. Greer about our grant approval process, and hear updated statistics on the number of research grants and investigators ACS has helped fund.

    In her doctoral work, Dr. Watkins investigated a technique for inducing immune cells to attack lung cancer tumors. Her post-doctoral work examined the relationship between cancer and inflammation, and earned her a track to tenure at Loyola University Chicago through a Pathway to Independence NIH grant. 

    For any questions about our Research Department, please contact Joya Harris on the Research Integration Team at research.integration@cancer.org.


  • ACS unveils its Blueprint for Cancer Control in the U.S. It says eliminating socioeconomic disparity could prevent 1 in 4 cancer deaths

    The American Cancer Society published its first in a series of articles in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians that collectively will outline our vision for cancer control for the U.S. through 2035. It assesses progress thus far in cancer control by reviewing trends in cancer mortality and disparities in cancer outcomes, and concludes: "We can do better." 

    These articles comprise our "Blueprint for Cancer Control," and are meant to form the basis of a national cancer control plan and our organization's vision for how cancer prevention, screening, diagnosis, and treatment can be transformed to define the most efficient path to lower the cancer burden in our nation.

    "It is our hope that this blueprint will be a call to action for cancer patients, family members of cancer patients, professional organizations, government agencies, the medical profession, academia, and industry to work together to implement what is known about cancer control," write the authors, led by our Chief Medical Officer Otis Brawley, MD.

    Published on July 10 was an introduction, Toward the Control of Cancer, and article one, An Assessment of Progress in Cancer Control. Subsequent chapters will focus on cancer risk factors, screening, treatment, survivorship, and research.

    There has been a good amount of media coverage. Of particular interest, is Dr. Brawley's interview with NPR.

    Despite a 25-year decline in mortality rate, cancer remains the second-leading cause of death in the U.S. and is expected to become the leading cause of death in the next decade. To refocus nationwide efforts, the ACS has assessed the successes and challenges in cancer control and oncology, identifying key issues that must be addressed and what interventions must be implemented to most efficiently control cancer. 

    One area of critical disparity is in socioeconomic status. Using educational attainment as a surrogate of socioeconomic status, ACS epidemiologists in this report estimate that 1 in 4 current cancer deaths would not occur if all Americans had the cancer death rate of college educated Americans. Applying the death rate for the most educated group (bachelor's degree or above) to the entire population would lead to 59% fewer lung cancer deaths, 32% fewer colorectal cancer deaths, 19% fewer pancreas cancer deaths, and 50% fewer liver cancer deaths. In total, more than 150,000 of the estimated 610,000 cancer deaths in the U.S. in 2018 would not occur if all Americans had the same levels of cancer risk exposure and received the same amount and quality of care as college graduates.

    "This calculation speaks volumes," write the authors. "The statistics demonstrate our obligation to deliver the fruits of already completed research to all Americans. They tell us what can be accomplished in cancer control without the development of new technology, new screening tests or new treatments."

    In the introduction, the authors note: "These goals cannot be achieved, however, without recognizing that the roots of health care disparities are deep, reflecting fundamental determinants of health, such as poverty, conscious and unconscious racism, barriers to the availability of healthy foods, a "built community" that limits opportunities for physical activity, and lack of systems that ensure access to high-quality health care. Any national cancer control plan must include meaningful efforts to address these determinants of health."

    The Blueprint also will inform ACS priorities going forward, and reinforces ACS's leadership in cancer control.

  • Otis Brawley visits China to educate and learn

    Otis Brawley, MD, American Cancer Society chief medical officer, has been in China, primarily to speak at the 10th Eco Forum Global Annual Conference in Guiyang, capital city of southwest China's Guizhou Province. The Honorable Jie He, MD, PhD, director of the Chinese National Cancer Center and a member of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, invited Otis and several other members of the U.S. National Academy of Medicine to attend the conference.

    The Eco Forum is an annual meeting sponsored by the Chinese government and a number of companies. It is part of the effort to control pollution and support the environment. There were more than 4,000 attendees. Otis delivered several talks on cancer trends in the U.S. and globally, and on the causes and prevention of cancer.

    While there, he spent two days visiting three medical schools. One of them was Zunyi Medical University in Zunyi, Guizhou Province. Over the past few years, Otis has collaborated with the faculty of Zunyi by reviewing some projects.  As a thank you, the president of the University awarded him the title “Honorary Professor of Oncology.” Otis also met with the director of the National Cancer Institute of China.

    "I was invited as a member of the National Academy of Medicine and for my expertise in cancer control, but I get real value, as well," Otis said. For instance, he said he "learned about clinical trials on cancer screening and prevention underway in China that will ultimately impact cancer control in the United States."

    PHOTOS: The top photo shows Otis speaking at the Eco Forum. In the smaller image, he is having an open discussion with fellows and residents of the Zunyi Medical University.

  • Study finds higher rates of cancer among flight attendants

    ​Research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has found that flight attendants have higher rates of several types of cancer than the general population, especially melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer, and for female flight attendants, breast cancer. 

    "Our findings of higher rates of several cancers among flight attendants is striking given the low rates of overweight and smoking in our study population, which highlights the question of what can be done to minimize the adverse exposures and cancers common among cabin crew," said Irina Mordukhovich, PhD, MSPH, a co-author of the study. 

    The link between flight attendants and cancer has been studied for more than a decade, but this is one of the largest studies so far, and the first to find a link to higher rates of non-melanoma skin cancer. However, the study does not explain what's causing the increased risk. The study was published online June 25, 2018 in Environmental Health.

    A look at the numbers 

    The findings are based on a survey conducted in 2014 - 2015 of 5,366 flight attendants in the U.S. who were part of the Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study, which started in 2007. The survey asked flight attendants specific questions about their work experiences, lifestyle habits, and health. Questions about whether they have had a cancer diagnosis were included. Researchers compared the results with information from a similar group of people in the general U.S. population, who were part of an annual survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. 

    The comparison showed that flight attendants had a higher rate of getting every cancer type that was looked at, especially breast cancer, melanoma skin cancer, and non-melanoma skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma) among female flight attendants. The other cancer types included endometrial, gastrointestinal, thyroid, and cervical cancers. Specifically:

    • 3.4% of female flight attendants reported having had breast cancer compared with 2.3% of women in the general population group.
    • 2.2% of female flight attendants reported having had melanoma skin cancer compared with 0.98% of women in the general population group. 
    • 1.2% of male flight attendants reported having had melanoma skin cancer compared with 0.69% of men in the general population group.
    • 7.4% of female flight attendants reported having had non-melanoma skin cancer compared with 1.8% of women in the general population group. 
    • 3.2% of male flight attendants reported having had non-melanoma skin cancer compared with 2.9% of men in the general population group. 

    Researchers also found that in some cases, female flight attendants who stayed on the job longer had higher rates of non-melanoma skin cancer. And they found a link between higher rates of breast cancer among female flight attendants who had never had children, as well as those who had three or more children. That finding needs more research, but the authors speculate it may have something to do with disruptions in sleep due to work schedules. 

    Workplace conditions and lifestyle habits 

    The study included self-reports of a cancer diagnosis, but it was not designed to investigate any specific cause for cancer or increased cancer risk among flight attendants. However, working as a flight attendant is known to increase exposure to certain conditions and substances that may increase cancer risk. They include: 

    • Cosmic ionizing radiation. This is a form of radiation that comes from space and is more intense as you get higher in the air. It is possible that this form of radiation increases cancer risk. Passengers are also exposed, but because they spend less time in the air than flight attendants, their exposure is lower. 
    • Disrupted sleep cycles. There is some evidence linking sleep disruptions to increased cancer risk. 
    • Air quality of the cabin. Air in the cabin on some flights may include pesticides and other chemicals. Not a lot is known about cabin air quality and how healthy it is. 
    • Secondhand tobacco smoke. Many flight attendants working today were exposed to secondhand smoke before it was illegal to smoke on planes. Secondhand smoke  is known to increase cancer risk.
    • Flight attendants may also have different lifestyle behaviors related to diet, physical activity, and health care than the general population. These could affect overall health and cancer risk.

    Some U.S. Occupational and Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) protections were granted to flight attendants in 2014, but regulating and monitoring of ionizing radiation isn’t routinely done. In contrast, the European Union, for example, requires airlines to monitor radiation dose, organize schedules to reduce radiation exposure, and inform airline workers of current cancer study results.

  • Sitting time linked to higher risk of death from all causes

    ​A study from the American Cancer Society finds a link between long periods of leisure time sitting and a higher risk of death from all causes, including 14 of the 22 causes of death measured by the study. This includes 8 of the 10 most common causes of death. The study was published online June 29, 2018 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

    Previous studies have linked prolonged sitting time with death from cancer, heart disease, and “all other causes.” To examine the other causes of death in detail, the new study used data from the American Cancer Society CPS-II Nutrition Cohort, which included 127,554 people who had no major chronic diseases when they joined the group, and who were followed for 21 years. During the study’s follow-up time, 48,784 people died. Risks of death among those who reported the most leisure time sitting were higher from cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, suicide, lung disease, liver disease, peptic ulcer and other digestive disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, nervous disorders, and musculoskeletal disorders.

    Screen time has increased sitting time

    As technology has advanced during the last few decades, sitting time has increased. One Australian study estimated that 90% of non-work time was spent sitting, and more than half of that sitting time was spent on the computer or watching TV. Previous studies have shown that prolonged sitting time raises risk of death even for people who get healthy amounts of moderate or vigorous physical activity when they aren’t sitting.

    In the American Cancer Society study, prolonged leisure time sitting was associated with a 19% higher rate of death from all causes combined compared to sitting less than 3 hours per day. The study defined prolonged sitting time as 6 or more hours a day.

    According to lead author Alpa Patel, PhD, American Cancer Society senior scientific director, Epidemiology Research, “While we still have yet to understand how to quantify what a safe amount of sitting time may be, what is clear is that individuals should take any opportunity to take breaks in sitting time and cut down sitting time to whatever degree they can.”

    Possible explanations

    The study was not designed to find out why excess sitting time is linked to an increased risk of death. However, the authors offer several possible explanations.

    • Time spent sitting might be taking the place of activity, including light levels of daily activity. Health effects of light levels of activity have not been studied.

    • Time spent sitting may be associated with other unhealthy activities; for example, snacking while watching TV.

    • Time spent sitting has a negative impact on the body’s hormone levels and the way the immune system works. This may be a factor in the link between sitting time and mortality.

    Tips for getting more movement into your day

    According to Patel, the study adds to the collective body of evidence that reducing sitting time is important for a healthy lifestyle. She said, “Advances in technology have encouraged us to be sedentary, so we need to be mindful about finding ways to move.” Patel says adding a few minutes of activity to break up sitting time throughout the day at work and during leisure time can add up. She suggests:

    • Standing and folding laundry while watching TV

    • Doing a few simple exercises or stretches while you watch

    • Getting up and doing something instead of skipping through TV commercial breaks

    • Taking short breaks at work to walk around your office building

    • Walking up the escalator or stairs instead of taking the elevator

    • Using the farthest bathroom from your desk

    American Cancer Society guideline for physical activity

    The American Cancer Society recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week (or a combination), preferably spread throughout the week.

    For kids, the recommendation is at least 60 minutes of moderate- or vigorous-intensity activity each day, with vigorous-intensity activity occurring at least 3 days each week.

  • Best wishes to Bill Chambers!

    William "Bill" Chambers, PhD, our senior VP, Extramural Research and Training, will be celebrating the July 4 holiday as a retiree! After a decade at ACS, he leaves feeling optimistic about the cancer fight.

    "We have seen major advances in immunotherapy and targeted therapy.  We are also more open to collaborating across the cancer research community. There are wonderful developments," he said.

    Here's a fascinating piece of trivia you may not know: the American Cancer Society awarded Bill his first research grant. "It was life-changing. Finally, after all those years of study and training, they believed in what I was doing enough to provide me the funding to put my ideas into action," Bill said.

    A well-known and widely respected immunologist, Bill left a distinguished career on the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute to join ACS 10 years ago as scientific program director for the Clinical Cancer Research and Immunology Program. In that capacity, he managed the development of the Society's cancer research and training programs in the areas of nutrition and cancer, environmental oncology, clinical cancer research, epidemiology, leukemia, blood cell development, and tumor immunology. He assumed leadership of the extramural research group five years ago.

    "He has done a tremendous job overseeing the largest private cancer grants program in the country," noted our CEO Gary Reedy.

    It was a labor of love for Bill. "It is extraordinarily gratifying that the leadership at the Society believed that I could have a positive impact on the research programs and allowed me the privilege of leading the Extramural Research Department. Helping young investigators get started on their careers has been a joy beyond words. They are the hope for the future and will finish this fight."

    So, what will Bill be doing in the next stage of life?

    "Lots," he said. "Outdoor activities, such as fishing and hiking; travel; and, as a life learner, I will try to take advantage of the over 62, tuition-free program offered by the Georgia university system.  I also will be an active volunteer." He also has a lot of reading to catch up on – in the areas of history, science, finance, and technology, to name just a few.

    "I hope that I have been able to contribute in some small way to the mission of the Society.  In Extramural Research, we have focused on being creative and innovative in our work," Bill said. "We also have worked very hard to be great partners to the other units in the Society, whether at the Global Headquarters or in the Regions. I am so very proud of the efforts of all the members of our Department to try and achieve that.  I believe they have really embraced that sensibility, and have made tremendous efforts in that regard. This fight against cancer requires us to work collectively, and in a focused way."

    What will Bill miss most? "Seeing the people who embrace the Society's mission and their energy in fighting this disease every day."

    Bill Phelps, PhD, scientific VP, Extramural Research, will serve as interim SVP until a permanent replacement is named.


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