Conquer Cancer Foundation: Taking Down Cancer Before it Even Begins

The most troubling cancer diagnoses are often those doctors cannot explain: when otherwise healthy, low-risk people find themselves as unlikely cancer patients. 

Considering that one’s lifetime risk of cancer is nearly 50 percent, the odds remain troublesome, even for people who dedicate a lifestyle to reducing or preventing their probability of disease.

However, through prevention-centered research, oncologists like Dr. William Nassib William, Jr., an associate professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, are working to provide an answer to the “Why me?” question many patients find themselves asking.

Dr. William (left) and former CCF Board Chair Dr. Martin Murphy

William has been studying why normal cells transform into cancer in the first place, as well as trying to discover ways to interrupt the process and prevent cancers from happening.

“My research focuses on trying to identify new therapies for patients with cancer, but also for patients that have pre-malignant lesions of the head and neck,” says William. “Pre-malignant lesions are lesions that are not cancerous yet, but they have a high risk of transforming into an invasive tumor.”

The Conquer Cancer Foundation (CCF) of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), an organization created by the world’s foremost cancer doctors, funds William’s research. He is a former recipient of CCF’s Young Investigator Award (YIA) and Career Development Award (CDA) grants, and his work is fulfilling the Foundation’s mission to conquer cancer worldwide by funding breakthrough research and sharing cutting-edge knowledge.

“One of the main challenges we have with patients with pre-malignant lesions is that we really don’t know which patients are actually going to develop a cancer and which patients are not going to develop a cancer,” explains William. “Our research is trying to identify some molecular markers of cancer risk, and we have actually made a lot of progress.”

William’s team can now biopsy oral pre-malignant lesions and perform a test that will tell patients whether they have a high or low risk of developing cancer. Those with high risk have the option to participate in clinical trials and receive treatments that may prevent their cancer altogether.

William’s prevention research has also led to hopeful treatments for advanced cancers as well. In a clinical trial, funded in part by CCF, William saw significant success in one patient whose life expectancy was just six months.

“I had a patient recently that came from Australia with a metastatic head and neck cancer. This was a tumor that had come back,” says William. “The patient had to relocate to Texas for other reasons, and he looked for us to see if there were any other treatments that we could offer him.”

The trial offered a new drug, and though William was candid about the poor prognosis facing the patient, he enrolled him in the study. The tumor started to shrink and eventually disappeared. The patient is still receiving the drug, and, three years later, there is no sign of the tumor. William believes investing in research is key to both cancer prevention and survival.

“Right now, [my] patient is cancer-free because of the research supported by the Conquer Cancer Foundation,” says William.

CCF’s Grants and Awards Program funds research on all types of cancers, everywhere. CCF has awarded more than $105 million in cancer research funding through 1,700 grants and awards to researchers in 68 countries. CCF has a Four Star Charity rating from Charity Navigator and is a Better Business Bureau Accredited Charity.  The $150 million The Campaign to Conquer Cancer aims to take down cancer by investing in the brightest minds in cancer research, global oncology initiatives, education for patients and families, and quality of care, exemplified by ASCO’s CancerLinQ™, a groundbreaking system that will unlock and analyze cancer care data, giving doctors up-to-the minute conclusions and guidance to share with patients.

Learn more about Conquer Cancer Foundation at CONQUER.ORG.