The Cancer Prevention & Population Science (CPPS) program at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute conducts research to define etiologic factors underlying health disparities in the urban-rural continuum. The program’s team-oriented and translationally based approach covers the entire cancer continuum — primary prevention, early detection, laboratory research, clinical trials and applications, diagnosis and treatment, quality of life, and survivorship.
Mayumi Nakagawa, M.D., Ph.D., and Joseph Su, Ph.D., M.P.H., have served as co-leaders of the program at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute since its formation in 2015.
In terms of the Cancer Institute’s efforts to achieve NCI Designation, CPPS is a vital program to ensure statewide efforts related to cancer prevention and screening are being met.
“The title of our program describes its focus, which is cancer prevention on the population level. In Arkansas, we have high diagnosis, incidence and mortality rates of certain types of cancer, particularly lung, breast, prostate and colorectal cancers. We are looking at the varied reasons for this and how to combat it,” Nakagawa said.
Among the areas the program examines include lack of access to services, underutilization of cancer preventative measures and screenings, and genetic, lifestyle and environmental causes of cancer.
“Cancer disparities have a lot to do with behavior-related issues, such as smoking and obesity. In terms of preventative services, Arkansas has one of the lowest rates of people receiving the HPV vaccine and one of the highest rates of cervical cancer incidence and mortality. This is preventable and a place where we as a state need to improve,” Su said.
One of the major projects underway in the CPPS are the two ongoing clinical trials for a therapeutic HPV vaccine developed in Nakagawa’s lab. One of the trials, now in Phase 2, treats women with high-grade precancerous cervical lesions by enhancing their immune response. The second trial, now in Phase 1/2, is designed to prevent recurrence of head and neck cancer in previously diagnosed patients.
CPPS also is charged by the state Legislature to study the feasibility of a statewide cancer navigation program. The effort, which would include many stakeholders from across Arkansas, would serve as a resource to help patients find the most convenient services in their community, from cancer prevention through treatment and survivorship.
“For a lot of Arkansans, poverty is a major issue. Traveling to Little Rock for medical treatment can be a challenge, so we are hoping to direct people to services in their own communities that can serve their needs,” Su said.