The fight against breast cancer is easy to see when the whole town turns pink.
But students rarely see the work that goes on at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center both during Breast Cancer Awareness Month and year-round.
Turn the Town Pink with these Benefit Events
Time: All day Thursday
Location: Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe, 173 East Franklin St.
Info: All proceeds go to Turn the Town Pink
Time: 1 p.m. Saturday
Location: Francis E. Henry Stadium
Info: Support UNC field hockey’s PINK game
Time: All day Oct. 17
Location: Aveda Institute Salon & Spa, 200 W. Franklin St.
Info: Schedule an appointment for beauty for a cure
Time: Noon to 2 p.m. Oct. 18
Location: Coldwell Banker HPW, 1600 E. Franklin St.
Info: Pig Out for the Cure. Reserve a BBQ plate today at http://bit.ly/RvyIzR
Time: All day Oct. 23
Location: Carolina Brewery, 460 W. Franklin St.
Info: Pink Pint Night. 15 percent of sales go to Turn the Town Pink
“We have one of the largest and broadest programs in breast cancer in the country,” said Dr. Shelley Earp, director of the Lineberger Center.
He said the center was one of the first to receive the Specialized Program of Research Excellence grant from the National Cancer Institute in 1992.
“We are one of two or three (institutions) that has had this kind of research money for broad breast cancer research for 20 years,” he said.
This funding has resulted in breakthrough research, clinical trials and outreach programs that have put UNC’s name on the map — and given breast cancer patients new hope.
In the laboratory
The national spotlight was on the Lineberger Center most recently for the publication of a study that identified four main subtypes of breast cancer.
This study was released by the Perou Lab, which is headed by UNC professor Dr. Chuck Perou, and specializes in breast cancer.
The lab is part of the Cancer Genome Atlas project, which is aimed at fully understanding all the different cancer types through characterizing the genomic changes.
Dr. Katie Hoadley, a research associate in the lab and an author of the paper, said this project is groundbreaking.
“We’re one of 13 institutions all collaborated together under Chuck Perou’s leadership.”
Hoadley said the ability for researchers to collaborate closely with people in the hospital has helped breast cancer treatment progress.
“It helps us bridge that gap and inform clinical trials,” she said.
In the clinic
Dr. Timothy Zagar said that, as far as he knows, the clinic he helped pioneer in August is the only brain metastasis clinic in the country.
“Brain metastasis is what we call it when cancer spreads from the organ it started in to the brain,” he said.
Zagar said the Brain Metastases Specialty Clinic he helped create in partnership with Dr. Carey Anders and Dr. Matthew Ewend focuses on brain metastasis in women with breast cancer.
Ewend said brain metastasis affects more than 100,000 Americans a year, but with new, minimally invasive tools such as the cyberknife and chemotherapy discs, the clinic is working to reduce the amount of treatment needed.
He said there are only a few institutions in the country that have these tools.
Zagar said the projects in the clinic are all externally funded, and since the clinic’s creation more than two months ago, they have seen at least a dozen patients.
“We’ve seen some very, very good responses to some of the trials,” he said. “But that’s why we have to keep doing them. We have to see if the responses last.”
Zagar said that while the clinic currently works with women with breast cancer, its creators hope to eventually expand it to patients with any type of cancer.
Ewend also has a more long-term goal in mind.
“I hope this clinic goes out of business because we get a cure for brain metastasis,” he said.
In the community
The Lineberger Center is working to bring its advancements out of the clinics and into African-American communities.
Brandolyn White, project manager of the Carolina Community Network, said the program was created by Dr. Paul Godley in 2005 to do just that.
“(Godley) wanted really to establish this network whereby it moves us beyond the campus, beyond the cancer hospital, into communities to address cancer disparities in a collaborative way,” she said.
She said they focus their efforts on the central and northeast regions of North Carolina through workshops, seminars, health fairs and other means to educate women about breast cancer and prevention measures.
In 2011, they were able to educate approximately 375 people through 14 community projects.
White said another avenue the network works though is working with several non-profit organizations to put on breast cancer screenings and reach out to survivors.
“Our work is driven by our community partners,” she said.
In the future
The Lineberger Center, while already very accomplished in the field of breast cancer, continues to move forward with new projects.
Earp said a team is currently working on a study that will analyze breast cancer genomics and treatment in 3,000 women from across the state.
The study will last several years. It received about $4 million in funds from external sources, and the remaining $2 million to $4 million needed will be provided by the University’s cancer research fund.
“We’re really leading the world in breast cancer genetics and breast cancer sub-types,” Earp said.
“But the exciting thing is we’re putting all that together in clinical trials for women who have this disease.”
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