Pilot project in Hawaii could help millions of cancer patients - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Pilot project in Hawaii could help millions of cancer patients

Phillip Olsen Phillip Olsen
Dr. Marc Goodman Dr. Marc Goodman

By Leland Kim - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Almost 1.5 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and more than a third will die from it. The Cancer Research Center of Hawaii wants to help more people beat the deadly disease.

Imagine if your cancer treatment could be customized to your risk factors, similar to getting a suit or a dress made to your measurements. That may soon be a reality, which could mean a greater chance of surviving a cancer diagnosis.

About 1,500 people have recently been diagnosed with cancer in Hawaii. Phillip Olsen went through this scenario in 1993 when his doctor told him he had prostate cancer.

"I was in a state of shock," said the 78-year-old pilot. "I couldn't tell my wife, couldn't tell anybody. It took me a long time to get over that."

Thanks to aggressive treatment, his cancer is now in remission. Olsen and other cancer survivors are the key in a pilot project that looks at how lifestyle and genetics affect a person's chance of beating cancer.

"So if we can create equations, that is different information like your age, your ethnicity, your sex, some information about your genetic background, hopefully we'll be able to personalize medical care so that those people are treated in the best way possible," said Dr. Marc Goodman, a professor and a researcher at the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii.

Researchers can do this with the help of cancer survivors.

So about half will get this in the mail. It contains a questionnaire as well as a sample kit. The kit contains mouthwash, as well as a sample container. Now all you have to do is swish your mouth for about a minute with the mouthwash and then spit it into this container, and it'll look something like this. And the alcohol in the mouthwash will preserve the cells to be analyzed at a later time.

Then the results are stored in a database, which will help scientists look at how risk factors affect cancer rates in Hawaii.

"I think this is marvelous and I don't think it's been elsewhere ever," said Olsen. "And if Dr. Goodman is successful in getting participation from a wide number of cancer survivors, I think it can be transformative."

Transformative medicine that could potentially help millions of people who are fighting cancer.

"And we're hoping that this kind of information will put Hawaii at the forefront of medical care, not only in the United States but internationally," said Dr. Goodman.

Everything is kept confidential, and if it goes well, this project could expand to an international database, which could save many, many lives.

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