UI Cancer Center featured at Davis town hall

“We’ve put in an enormous amount of money into cancer research but it’s still not enough.”

Those were the words U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-IL) told an audience last week during a healthcare conversation, titled “Viewing Cancers in the 21st Century,” at Mile Square Health Center, 1220 W. Wood St., that featured presentations from the University of Illinois Cancer Center and University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System.

“We’ve learned a lot about early cancer screenings and detection, and that’s important so cancer can be prevented and stopped,” Davis said prior to introducing Karriem Watson, DHSc, MS, MPH, associate director of Community Outreach and Engagement at the UI Cancer Center who discussed community-based screenings and diversity in clinical trials. Through a new $1.5 million grant from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, the UI Cancer Center will develop population-specific cancer prevention and screening programs at community hospitals or health centers in Chicago’s Austin, Humboldt Park and South Shore neighborhoods.

The low rates of cancer screenings will also be addressed utilizing community partners at such locations as beauty parlors and barber shops, and through new partnerships with The Loretto Hospital, 645 S. Central Ave., and Norwegian American Hospital, 1044 N. Francisco Ave. “People shouldn’t have to take two buses and a train to get screened,” Watson said. “We want to make it easy for them.”

Neeta K. Venepalli, MD, MBA, associate professor of medicine in the division of hematology/oncology and a UI Cancer Center member, discussed emerging cancer therapies such as checkpoint inhibitors and chimeric antigen receptor therapy (CAR-T). While they have shown signs of success, some may have serious side effects and can be expensive.

“We need to make pharmaceutical products more cost effective,” said Davis, a member of the House Ways & Means Committee. “A woman testified before our committee recently who said her drugs cost $10,000 a month. If not for the Affordable Care Act, we would have been eulogizing her instead of listening to her.”

There are 16 million cancer survivors today and that number will increase to 26 million by the year 2040, said Susan Hong, MD, director of survivorship at the UI Cancer Center. Hong discussed numerous programs that have been instituted at the center to assist individuals with cancer survival, among them a partnership with Wellness House to provide patients with exercise and nutrition classes, support and counseling sessions, and stress management, among other programs. Following Hong’s presentation, Beverly Flowers, Ramona Burress, PharmD, and renowned fashion designer Barbara Bates provided audience members with information from a survivor’s perspective about what happens after treatment, as all three have battled, or are currently battling, cancer.

Robert Winn, MD, director of the UI Cancer Center, ended the evening with a discussion about what the future holds in cancer research.

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