On World Cancer Day, Harvard announces new center for cancer prevention

Representatives from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston announced Monday February 4, World Cancer Day, the opening of the new Zhu Family Center for Global Cancer Prevention.

The innovative new interdisciplinary center will focus on education and research aimed at preventing people from getting cancer as well as improving early detection, according to a press release. It will encourage partnerships among those who understand the basic causes of cancer, those who build technologies that can be used to detect cancer early, and those who are trained to implement those strategies in local communities.

Timothy Rebbeck, PhD, professor of cancer prevention at the Harvard Chan School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and associate director for equity and engagement at the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, was named director of the new center.

Rebbeck leads molecular epidemiology studies of cancer etiology, outcomes, health disparities, and global health. His work has focused on understanding the genetic and environmental causes of breast, prostate, skin, endometrial, and ovarian cancers. He said the center’s creation represents exciting possibilities for the future of the field.

“With its ability to attract world-class researchers and foster new types of interdisciplinary collaboration, the center has the potential to propel significant progress in reducing the cancer burden and improving human health around the globe,” he said. “It could forever change the ways cancer is prevented and diagnosed in the future.”

Cancer affects millions around the globe. In 2018, more than 18 million people worldwide were diagnosed with the disease, and nearly 10 million died from it. Roughly 44 million around the world are living with cancer, and it is now the leading cause of death in many parts of the world.

An aging population, the adoption of unhealthy lifestyles by people around the world, and environmental exposures linked with cancer are all expected to significantly increase the cancer burden in the coming decades, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, said Rebbeck.

Research has shown that one-half to two-thirds of all cancer cases could be prevented if societies fully implemented currently available cancer-prevention strategies, such as vaccinations against infection-related cancers, screenings such as mammography and colonoscopy, personal lifestyle changes, and avoiding exposure to environmental carcinogens.

The new center will focus its research on cancer prevention and early detection, including engaging with experts across healthcare disciplines to ensure recommended interventions are cost-effective and implementable within existing health systems. Time will tell whether integrative medicine plays a role in lifestyle strategies.