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Investigators at the University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center have conducted various clinical trials with the hope of positively impacting survivorship among those diagnosed with cancer. These studies seek to decrease cancer mortality through improving the treatments and care of cancer patients and the quality of life for cancer survivors.

In Hawaiʻi, more than 16,000 patients have been enrolled in cancer clinical trials since 2016. These studies have caused the mortality rate of cancer to fall, and the number of cancer survivors to increase.

“In 2016, there were over 62,000 cancer survivors in Hawaiʻi—a number that has been steadily increasing since then. The UH Cancer Center is conducting over 70 clinical trials focused on cancer survivorship as it pertains to survival and treatment-related side effects, both physical and psychosocial,” said Jonathan Cho, UH Cancer Center Clinical Trials Office medical director. “Clinical trials play an important role on how we will meet the present and future needs of the rapidly growing cancer survivor population.”

June is National Cancer Survivor Month, a time to celebrate those who are living with and have fought through their cancer diagnoses. More than 16.9 million people in the U.S. are cancer survivors. Every individual’s survivorship story is unique, as many face challenges before, during and after treatment. Research on survivorship helps to anticipate, recognize, prevent and/or manage these challenges.

Improving care in rural areas

According to the National Cancer Institute, an individual is considered a cancer survivor from the time they are diagnosed with the disease. Cancer patients are an important population and they play a significant role in survivorship research.

To improve the care of cancer patients in Hawaiʻi’s rural areas, UH Cancer Center Junior Researcher Izumi Okado is conducting a study on cancer care coordination on Kauaʻi and Hawaiʻi Island. Studies show that cancer patients in rural areas have higher mortality rates than those residing in urban areas. They are also more likely to be diagnosed with advanced-stage cancers, have coexisting but unrelated disease conditions, and experience delays in receiving diagnoses and treatments.

Overcoming challenges

doctor talking to patient

It is not uncommon for cancer survivors to experience challenges even after they receive treatment. These can include economic burdens due to medical expenses, lost wages and reduced productivity, survivor’s guilt, the fear of recurrence, feeling down, challenges moving and exercising in the way they did before treatment, and other health problems. To help in overcoming these challenges, UH Cancer Center researchers have teamed up with other researchers, clinicians and teachers to conduct numerous studies to research the positive effects of social-support activities on cancer survivors’ mental and physical well-being.

UH Cancer Center Researchers Erin Bantum and Lenora Loo led two intervention studies of hula for breast and gynecologic cancer survivors. The researchers found that hula could help to increase physical activity for breast cancer survivors, improve quality of life, increase vigor and decrease levels of circulating cytokines (a type of protein), associated with obesity and inflammation.

“The cancer journey continues after treatment and even during long-term survivorship,” said Bantum. “We study survivorship to improve the well-being of those who have and had cancer—regardless of where they are in their journey. We hope that our studies will help to identify ways to help make the most out of the experience with cancer.”

The UH Cancer Center’s research is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

The UH Cancer Center is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The center has made seminal discoveries in the areas of cancer biology, epidemiology, cancer prevention and treatment, and contributed to the advanced health care for thousands of cancer patients to gain access to the most innovative and latest clinical trials at home in Hawaiʻi.

For more see the UH Cancer Center website.

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