Cancer Prevention

Science Scene

Photo Credit: Raquel Breternitz | Daily Texan Staff

Cancer myths prevail
The results of a recent survey, reported at the ESMO (European Society for Medical Oncology) 2012 Congress in Vienna, show that the general population is uninformed when it comes to cancer prevention. Among the more alarming results were that 90 percent of respondents believed genetics strongly increase cancer risk even though diet and lifestyle account for approximately 90 to 95 percent of cancers. Respondents also generally underestimated the impact of obesity, alcohol and sunlight exposure, which can all significantly put patients at risk of developing tumors. Additionally, many people believed detox diets, organic food and fresh, rather than frozen, fruits would help protect against cancer even though research has not shown that to be the case. The results suggest that the public needs better education about lifestyle choices in order to help battle this deadly disease.

Fraud in science
One of science’s greatest attributes is its self-correcting nature. If a group publishes a study, several other opposing groups jump into action to try and prove the first wrong. Through this process, mistakes may be uncovered and, when they are, the journals that published the initial results retract them. A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows, however, that honest mistakes aren’t nearly as common as outright fraud, which accounts for over two-thirds of all retractions in medical journals. What makes this study more insightful than other similar studies is its depth, going back to the 1940s, and its willingness to investigate the nature of the retractions, which are often hidden or disguised to save face. The authors of this report note that fraud has increased about tenfold since the 1970s and that the retractions show trends related to publication time and location.

Republican women more feminine
A computer analysis of the facial features of female politicians in the House of Representatives showed that republican women tend to have more feminine features than those in the Democratic Party, whereas democratic men tend to appear more masculine than republican men. The researchers also discovered that the effect was correlated with voting record. In other words, republican women who voted more conservatively than others in their party typically also had more feminine features. The authors believe that these results are indicative of a society in which voters aren’t looking exclusively at policies or records when deciding on which candidate to vote for, and, in fact, may be looking at how well the candidate fits into his or her respective stereotypical gender role.

Nice baboons finish first
A seven-year study investigating 45 wild female baboons found that being nice has its benefits. The researchers analyzed the traits they observed of the baboons and ascribed them a score in each of three categories, nice (friendliness), aloof (aggression) and loner (being alone). The scientists then compiled the data and attempted to correlate the individuals’ attributes with how well other monkeys treated them as well as how well they kept partners. The results showed that the nice baboons scored highest in sociability and also did fairly well in terms of keeping partners, though not quite as well as the aloof ones. The loners are worse off in both categories and also had high glucocorticoid hormone levels, which indicate their lives are particularly stressful.

My, what sharp teeth you have
A new dinosaur dating back 200 million years ago has been discovered and it appears to have been a vegetarian, despite its sharp teeth. By looking at the wear on the teeth, scientists have come to the conclusion that the species used them in a way similar to fanged deer of today: as self defense or, perhaps, for digging. The species, pegomastax africanus, is odd-looking, with a parrot-shaped beak and vampire fangs. Unlike some better-known dinosaurs with sharp teeth, it is not particularly terrifying since it is just shy of the size and weight of a typical housecat.

I want to start off by saying that I have no problem with a tobacco ban on campus; I understand that the funding received from the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) is critical to continuing to perform cutting edge and potentially life-saving research here at UT, as well as the public health benefits of instituting such a ban. That being said, I find it puzzling in the extreme that CPRIT has chosen to include a ban on electronic cigarettes in its stipulation for funding.

The problem is that e-cigarettes are not a tobacco product. They traditionally contain no tar, or any known carcinogens. By contrast, cigarettes contain at least 19 known carcinogenic chemicals. There has not yet been much research on the safety or usefulness of e-cigarettes as smoking-cessation devices, due in large part to their relatively recent invention. Because of this, e-cigarettes have not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a smoking-cessation device, yet I and many smokers I know have had great success in cutting back on smoking or quitting completely through its use.

In e-cigarettes, I and many others see great potential for a tool that helps people quit smoking, preserves public health by reducing second-hand smoke and allows persons the freedom to continue to consume nicotine in a relatively safe manner. CPRIT is fighting against against its own interests and the interests of University students by including e-cigarettes under its stipulations for funding. Perhaps a portion of the research money which the University will receive should go to investigating cancer prevention methods that new technology create for us recently but are not yet fully understood.

Justin Hillsmith
Psychology senior

Point-counterpoint: Campus-wide tobacco ban

Editor’s note: On Feb. 9, Pat Clubb, vice president for University operations, and Juan Sanchez, vice president for research, sent a University-wide email alerting the campus community that the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas will no longer fund research at institutions that do not have a tobacco-free campus policy. University administrators are expected to reach a decision on whether to impose a campus-wide tobacco ban by March 1.

UT recently sent out a mass email telling us all that we will be converting to a tobacco-free campus in the next couple of months. The reasoning? Money, of course. In order to qualify for more than $80 million in new research grants — and to maintain more than $30 million in grants we already have — from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, the University must become smoke-free.

I feel like I should be jumping on an anti-administration, anti- “the man telling me what to do with my own body” kind of rant. But I can’t.

The first thing I thought about when I heard about the ban was an experience I had freshman year. I had a one-hour break in my schedule, so I used to go to the Honors Quad, pull out my book and lay in the sunshine and read. Birds would chirp, squirrels would frolic and boys would play frisbee; it was a quintessentially collegiate scene.

But my tradition was prematurely ended with the arrival of a man and his cigar. He would light up, and the breeze changed from a welcome coolant to a harbinger of repulsiveness. Even 20 feet away, I could still smell it. My study spot was ruined.

So while my freshman-year self is rejoicing at imminent punishment for the cigar smoker and all his foul-breathed brethren, I can’t help but wonder: Is it fair? Just because I hate the smell of cigarette smoke, is it fair for the University to make it so no one can smoke? As a self-professed “crazy liberal,” don’t I believe that people should have the freedom to choose what they do with their own body (as long as it doesn’t harm others)?

Sure, there’s the issue of secondhand smoke, but if it’s outside, we can just do what I did freshmen year when confronted with cigarette smoke: walk away. And how can I judge faculty and staff that work hard all day at their jobs? Shouldn’t they be able to enjoy a cigarette during their break without having to walk several blocks to get off campus?

But faculty members that smoke are adults who are used to going to restaurants, visiting libraries and using public means transportation that are smoke-free. Plus, millions of other adults work in tobacco-free environments across the country.

The biggest worry I have is whether letting UT take away this choice from us will be the first step toward metaphorically Patriot Act-ing away other freedoms as well. What if UT decided to stop selling sodas and shut down Wendy’s and Taco Bell because the food is too unhealthy? When it’s Frosties instead of cigarettes on the line, all of a sudden, I’m a lot more upset about losing a freedom.

But here’s the thing: The freedom to smoke cigarettes is essentially the freedom to participate in an activity that slowly, painfully and most assuredly kills you from the inside out. And while Frosties aren’t exactly healthy, they will not turn your lungs black or require you to get a hole drilled in your throat so you can continue breathing.

Many things are carcinogenic or unhealthy for you, but usually only if they’re used in excess, like drinking alcohol, eating fatty foods and using the microwave.

Every single time you smoke a cigarette, it’s bad for you. There’s something profoundly disturbing to me about a university that decides to stand idly by and watch young people in the prime of their life, or any people for that matter, throw away their future health and vitality with tobacco.

Even though it pains me to be on the side of the establishment, big money, Student Government, the administration and poor spelling (for anyone who saw the University-wide email), I firmly support our University’s decision to adopt a policy that ultimately cherishes the health and well-being of our student body above all else — even if it wasn’t decided for that reason.

Taylor is a Plan II and rhetoric and writing senior.

News Briefly

UT faculty recently earned three grants worth $4.7 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas to improve understanding of cancer treatment options.

UT’s Texas Institute for Drug and Diagnostic Development earned a $2.4 million grant. Kevin Dalby, associate professor of medicinal chemistry and co-director of the drug-development institute, said the state of Texas is going to spend $3 billion on cancer research over 10 years.

“This grant money will be used for screening for potential drugs,” Dalby said. “In collaboration with other universities, we have a combined program where we’re doing different things, but the ultimate aim is to find drugs that can cure cancer.”

The cancer institute also awarded Tanya Paull, a professor in molecular genetics and microbiology, a separate $1 million grant for her research.

“We’re doing research on the mechanisms of double-strand break repair, which is a form of DNA repair that is in all human cells. We’re trying to understand how that process takes place,” Paull said.

She said DNA damage and how cells deal with that damage is important in terms of whether conditions result in cancer.

Maria Person, director of the Protein and Metabolite Analysis Facility at the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology and the College of Pharmacy, got a $1.3 million grant to purchase mass-spectrometry equipment to examine molecular DNA damage.