Dr. David Kerr Discusses the Battle against Cancer
“Cancer is so widespread around the world that it can be called an epidemic – one third of us will develop it and one quarter of us will die from it,” said internationally renowned cancer researcher and physician David Kerr at a public lecture held at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar Tuesday evening. Kerr is chief research advisor for Sidra Medical and Research Center, a member of the Supreme Council of Health in Qatar, adjunct professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, and professor of cancer therapeutics and fellow of Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford.
There is a general perception that cancer is a single, homogenous disease. In fact, said Kerr, cancer is more than 100 different diseases with different natural histories, different characteristics, different kinds of behavior, and different types of treatment.
There are three biological properties that unify or characterize cancer. They are uncontrolled growth, the capacity of cancer cells to invade and destroy normal tissue, and the capacity of the primary tumor to break off seeds that spread to distant organs throughout the body.
All cancers, regardless of where they start, are caused by an interplay between the genes we inherit from our mother and our father and the environment in which we choose or sometimes are forced to live, said Kerr.
Cancers in young people are frequently a result of damaged genes inherited by parents to their children. Most cancer, though, tends to be a disease of the elderly, said Kerr. “For a single, normal gene to become an aggressive and spreading cancer cell, it takes four or five different genetic changes or mutations. These changes take time. We accumulate these genetic lesions, the damage to cells, as we grow older, which is why cancer is predominantly a disease of those 70 and older.”
“We cannot control our genes, but we can control many elements of our environment and lifestyle,” said Kerr. “Many people would be surprised to learn that if they ate less red meat, it would cut down their chances of getting cancer. If they ate more greens and several servings of fruit a day, their risk of cancer would decline.”
To further reduce their risk of cancer, people should avoid tobacco, protect themselves from excessive sunlight, and participate in regular exercise,” said Kerr. “Cancer prevention is not magical; it involves a fit and healthy lifestyle.” And, because cancer in its earliest stages may produce no symptoms, people should follow the guidelines for cancer screening tests, including mammograms and colonoscopies, he said.
Increasingly, scientists are using use basic scientific research to develop treatments and strategies to prevent and stop cancer from growing. As a result, the future for cancer prevention looks bright. Research underway in Doha will play a leading role in the battle against cancer, said Kerr.