University of Arizona Cancer Center researchers Mark D. “Marty” Pagel, PhD, and Kimberly McDermott, PhD, were named this year’s recipients of the Better Than Ever Program’s grant awards.

The Better Than Ever (BTE) training program is a fitness training and fundraising program designed to help make walking, running or biking a regular part life. The program also raises funds to support investigator-initiated clinical trials. BTE grants have traditionally funded research for women’s cancers, but this year, the BTE effort is expanding to also include correlative studies to investigator-initiated clinical trials for other cancer types.

Each year, the BTE Scientific Review Committee, led by Setsuko K. Chambers, MD, chooses recipients for these grants. This year’s awards bring the 12-year grant distribution total to more than $1.8 million. The following grants have been awarded a total of $90,000 for 2012-2013:



The University of Arizona Cancer Center has completed the initial steps of its search for a new director, identifying five candidates for campus visits and in-depth interviews.

Search committee chair and Cancer Center member Serrine Lau, PhD, a UA professor of pharmacology and toxicology and pharmaceutical sciences and director of the UA Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center, stressed that the search is still “very open” and that the committee is still accepting applications, but that the five individuals on the “short list” are outstanding, highly qualified candidates.

The 13-member committee, which includes six UACC members, sifted through more than 100 nominations on Aug. 1, with help from the executive search firm Witt/Kieffer. Thirty-five candidates completed applications. Out of that pool, the search committee selected 12 candidates for “airport interviews,” each of which lasted for roughly 75 minutes.

On July 30 and 31, the search committee conducted six airport interviews, followed by three more on Aug. 6. The committee finished the remaining three interviews on Aug. 24 and identified five candidates for first round of campus interviews.  These visits will include meetings with the search committee, current director David Alberts, MD, and various members of University of Arizona and UA College of Medicine leadership.

Dr. Lau said she hopes to conclude these interviews by the middle of October.



September is Ovarian Cancer Month, and the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition isn’t wasting any time getting the word out.

On Saturday, Sept. 1, the NOCC’s Tucson chapter is hosting an Ovarian Cancer Symposium at the University of Arizona Cancer Center’s Kiewit Auditorium (1515 N. Campbell Ave.) from 8 a.m. to noon. UACC Director David Alberts, MD, is the keynote speaker, and distinguished panel members include UACC members Michael Bookman, MD, Janiel Cragun, MD, Joanne Jeter, MD, Marnie Lamm, MD, Christina Laukaitis, MD, and Cynthia Thomson, PhD, RD.

The panel discussions will cover genetic issues, risk factors, screening, prevention, managing recurrent disease, and the newest treatment options and clinical trials.

In addition, the NOCC will hold its Third Annual Teal Tea to “Break the Silence on Ovarian Cancer” on Sept. 8 at 2 p.m. at the Sheraton Tucson Hotel & Suites, 5151 E. Grant Road. Cost is $40. For reservations or more information, send an email to tucsonaz@ovarian.org or call 342-4599.

Sept. is Ovarian Cancer Month (Arizona Daily Star, Aug. 26, 2012)
• National Ovarian Cancer Coalition


Suleika Jaouad

Meet Suleika Jaouad. She is in her early 20s and living in New York as a writer – a dream scenario, right?

“Armed with a college diploma, my first job offer, a one-way ticket to Paris and a new pair of heels, I was ready to take on anything,” she wrote in her first blog post toward the end of March.

Her life was flipped upside down, however, when four devastating syllables became a part of her life: leukemia.

Dealing with cancer is never easy at any age, obviously. However, young-adult cancer patients have an entirely different set of physical and emotional challenges that are rarely addressed in the larger cancer discussion. As Jaouad wrote herself, youth and health are supposed to be synonymous.

Jaouad was diagnosed roughly 16 months ago. During this arduous journey, she’s used her gifts as a writer to shed some light on these unique challenges and provide some comfort for those who find themselves in similar situations.

The New York Times’ Well Blogs gave her a forum, and she’s made the most of it. Her series is called “Life, Interrputed,” and I strongly urge anyone who’s interested in cancer survivorship, inspiring stories, or even good-old-fashioned quality writing to give it a look.


A graphic illustrating overdiagnosis bias.

Numbers never lie, but they often tell vastly different sides of the truth, depending on the interpretation.

The traditional attitude toward cancer screening used to be “the more, the merrier.” There was no downside to collecting as much data as possible.

Now, that influx of information has led to some interesting debates on how to analyze and interpret that information.

Back in May, the National Cancer Institute posted a thorough breakdown of the issues that have arisen in statistical analysis, including sources of bias, how to measure “saved lives,” and the need for further education in statistical analysis.

Dr. Lisa Schwartz, professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice and co-director of the Veterans Affairs Outcomes Group in White River Junction, VT, wrote that “the majority of primary care physicians did not know which screening statistics provide reliable evidence on whether screening works,” in a  study published March 6 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The takeaway from this story was that doctors and medical journalists must be on the same page when it comes to determining the results of screening studies. More education will lead to better questions, which will lead to better studies and healthier patients.

Crunching Numbers: What Cancer Screening Statistics Really Tell Us
(Cancer.gov, May 1, 2012)



Have fun. Be fit. Fight Cancer. For more than a decade, those six words have been a way of life for those involved with Better Than Ever.

BTE Season 13 is now underway, as registration has officially opened for the Fall 2012 campaign. The official kickoff event and expo will take place at the UA Cancer Center – Kiewit Auditorium (1515 N. Campbell Ave., Tucson) on Sept. 5 at 5:30 p.m.

For those who have never taken part in BTE, it is a grass-roots effort led by The University of Arizona Cancer Center designed to encourage participants to make exercise a regular part of life – one of the most important cancer-prevention tools. This fitness and fundraising program provides a welcoming, non-competitive atmosphere for participants of all fitness levels to train for local running, walking or cycling events. The focus is on prevention, so you do not need to be a cancer survivor to participate. Groups have sprung up throughout Arizona, including Green Valley, Phoenix, and Sedona.

Need more info? Feel free to attend any of the information meetings scheduled throughout the next couple weeks. Runners, walkers, cyclists, and anyone interested in staying healthy and fighting cancer is encouraged to attend.

Participants will also raise funds that will go toward supporting the UA Cancer Center’s efforts in funding clinical trials related to women’s cancers and lab studies that tie into clinical trials focusing on other cancer types.

To get involved, visit arizonabte.org, contact the BTE program coordinator at (520) 626-7177, and be sure to “like” the BTE Facebook page.


Rebecca Zuurbier, M.D.

The National Cancer Institute recently released a study that determined that high mammographic breast density, while still a serious risk factor for developing breast cancer, does not necessarily increase a breast cancer patient’s risk of death.

The study, led by Gretchen L. Gierach, Ph.D., of the NCI, looked at more than 9,000 women with a confirmed diagnosis of breast cancer.

“Overall, it was reassuring to find that high mammographic breast density, one of the strongest risk factors for breast cancer, was not related to risk of death from breast cancer or death from any cause among breast cancer patients,” said Gierach in the NCI’s press release, which was published today. “Given that we identified subsets of women with breast cancer for whom low density was associated with poor prognoses, our findings underscore the need for an improved understanding of the biological components that are responsible for breast density.”

The findings are one important puzzle piece in a much larger effort to pin down the causes, and potential cures, for breast cancer — a disease that claimed nearly 40,000 lives in 2011.

Breast cancer patients with high density mammograms do not have increased risk of death (Cancer.gov, Aug. 20, 2012)
• Breast Cancer Facts & Figures (Cancer.org)


Image: National Cancer Institute

The University of Arizona Cancer Center is one of only 41 comprehensive cancer centers in the nation — as well as the only one headquartered in and serving the entire state of Arizona.

But what does that mean, exactly?

The National Cancer Institute recently launched a new website that does a terrific job highlighting the 67 NCI institutions (of those, 41 have earned the “comprehensive cancer center” tag), as well as letting patients know the myriad benefits of seeking treatment at an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center.

In order to receive this important designation, a cancer center must be “dedicated to research in the development of more effective approaches to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer.” The NCI goes on to explain the major impacts a cancer center of this nature can have on its community, as the collaboration between affiliated institutions can lead to “tangible results in the labs and hospitals.”


Natalia Ignatenko, PhD

University of Arizona Cancer Center researchers and physicians have seen their names attached to some awfully exciting news these past few days. Here is a quick round-up of some of the latest noteworthy accomplishments:

• Natalia Ignatenko, PhD, has been awarded $1.6 million by the NIH National Cancer Institute to study the role of Kallikrein 6 in colon cancer.

Dr. Ignatenko, a Research Associate Professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University Of Arizona Cancer Center and College of Medicine, will generate data on KLK6 functions and enzymatic activity in colon cancer. It will evaluate KLK6 as a specific molecular marker for colon cancer progression, metastasis and targeted therapy.

• Alison Stopeck, MD, spoke to the US News and World Report on behalf of new research that suggests that the new drug denosumab (or Xgeva) may be more effective to help treat advanced breast cancer patients and the ensuing bone-related complications than long-time osteoporosis drug zoledronic acid (Zometa).

“It’s more effective at preventing bone destruction caused by breast cancer that has spread to the bone,” Stopeck said. She was a contributing investigator on this study, which was published in the Aug. 14 issue of Clinical Cancer Research.

It’s still very early in the process, and many physicians still believe it’s too early to rely solely on denosumab over zoledronic acid, but the initial research has been exciting to track.

• Lisa Rimsza, MD, was part of a fascinating study regarding Burkitt’s lymphoma, which was highlighted in the Aug. 12 edition of Nature. Rimsza, along with nearly four dozen fellow researchers, looked at potential theraputic ways to treat BL, as opposed to the intense chemotherapy that has often been used to treat the disease.

The study’s introduction states that, “the toxicity of such therapy precludes its use in the elderly and in patients with endemic BL in developing countries, necessitating new strategies.”

Through genetic sequencing, the researchers studying the regulatory pathways in the disease that cooperate with what’s called, “MYC, the defining oncogene of this cancer.” These findings suggest opportunities to improve therapy for patients with BL.


Sydney Salmon, MD

“He raised the bar for science.”

This is what current University of Arizona Cancer Center director David Alberts, MD, had to say to the Arizona Daily Star after Dr. Sydney Salmon’s passing in 1999.

Today, the Star remembers Sydney Salmon, MD, as part of its “100 days of science” series, spotlighting his tremendous achievements in the field of cancer research.

Salmon, the UA Cancer Center’s founding director in 1976, was the key figure behind some landmark cancer research breakthroughs, including his efforts to combat multiple myeloma and breast cancer. Salmon passed away at the age of 63 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.