Stopping Cancer Early – The Best Possible Investment


Highlights from the 8th Annual Early Detection Symposium 2012

May 7, 2012

Canary Foundation held the Eighth Annual Early Detection Symposium at Stanford University on May 1, 2012. Nearly 200 participants came together to share their successes, challenges, and visions for the field of early detection of cancer. The conference session included updates from four Canary cancer teams (Lung, Ovary, Pancreas and Prostate) as well as presentations on innovative early detection research from across the country. Dr. Sam Gambhir, Director of the Canary Center at Stanford, described the goals of early detection in three key phrases:

  • Identify patients that have cancer
  • Isolate the location of the tumor
  • Intervene effectively

Attendees heard from researchers working in all three of these areas.

Tackling the Challenge of Overdiagnosis

One of the challenges in identifying cancer patients is avoiding overtreatment. Dr. Ruth Etzioni of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, an expert on PSA screening, dissected
the recently released guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force stating that the harms of PSA-based screening for prostate cancer outweigh the benefits. Dr. Etzioni presented the case for “smart” PSA screening. Current PSA screening practice results in overdiagnosis and overtreatment of men with less aggressive disease. Smart screening strategies such as age-specific PSA cutoffs combined with biennial screening could potentially reduce the amount of overdiagnosis by one third while retaining the lives saved by annual screening. Smart screening coupled with active surveillance could be of great value in reducing mortality with a much more acceptable ratio of harm to benefit.

Advancements in Effective Intervention

Highlights in the intervention arena included presentations from Dr. Arul Chinnaiyan from the University of Michigan, Dr. David Jablons from the University of California, San Francisco and Dr. Nishita Kothary from Stanford University.

Dr. Chinnaiyan is best known for his work on gene fusions that are specific for prostate cancer, unlike PSA. He shared progress on a new initiative at the University of Michigan, called MI-ONCOSEQ, which aims to translate high-throughput sequencing into clinical use – now possible due to advancements in technology. A patient’s genetic material is sequenced, and an expert board examines the results to recommend action. Knowing an individual’s “mutational landscape” may guide personalized treatment, including identifying which clinical trials are most likely to help the individual patient.

Dr. Jablons shared his work on a gene signature that predicts the likelihood of poor survival among patients with early stage lung cancer. Adding molecular diagnostics to standard clinical methods gave a better separation between patients at low and high risk of poor outcomes. A clinical trial will now test the ability of the gene signature to guide lung cancer treatment and help those with lung cancer survive longer.

Dr. Kothary is the Director of Interventional Radiology at the Stanford University Medical Center. Her work centers on interventional oncology — state of the art, minimally-invasive techniques for destroying tumor cells. For example, surgeons can now deliver therapeutic agents directly to a tumor using image-guided insertion of a catheter into a patient’s blood vessels. These advances will allow surgeons to treat smaller tumors with less traumatic procedures, shorter hospital stays and quicker overall recovery after surgery.

Symposium attendees also enjoyed a poster session, networking and dinner under the redwoods at the home of Don Listwin. The Ninth Annual Canary Early Detection Symposium will take place in May 2013 at Stanford University.