Using Questions to Find Cancer Answers

Sep 15, 2011, 7:07 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is looking for answers to some new questions about cancer, its causes and treatment and researchers can apply for grants to answer a question or two through the end of November. Harold Varmus, head of the NCI, is spearheading the project, called “Provocative Questions." NCI leaders hope the 24 questions will push researchers to use laboratory, clinical, and population sciences in imaginative ways.

Many questions are technical, no surprise, on topics such as genome sequencing and cancer phenotypes. But several of the questions have strong public health connections, such as:

  • What environmental factors change the risk of various cancers when people move from one geographic region to another?
  • How does obesity contribute to cancer risk?
  • Why don't more people alter behaviors known to increase the risk of cancers?

Dr. Varmus says it is posing the questions now because recent technological advances in many cancer-related fields, including genomics, molecular biology, and computational sciences, gives the field of cancer research an, “opportunity to take a step back from the momentum of these discoveries and make sure we have left no stone unturned and no important but perhaps non-obvious question left unexplored.”

Weigh In: What questions beyond the NCI’s list of 24 do you think need answers to help reduce the risk or better treat cancer?

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.