Learning to prevent cancer

carolLifelong teacher joins clinical trial to help doctors learn how to prevent colon cancer

Carol Cassells has spent a lifetime as an educator, helping children learn about subjects from science to social studies. Now she’s helping physicians learn how to prevent colon cancer.

Cassells, a “retired, but not retired” teacher from Cedar Rapids, was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016. “I was lucky they found it early,” she recalls. After surgery, Cassells was able to return to work as a consultant with Grant Wood Area Education Agency. Then her oncologist, Dr. William Fusselman of Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa (PCI) Hematology & Oncology, asked Cassells if she would be willing to participate in a clinical trial.

The Helen G. Nassif Community Cancer Center participates in many clinical research trials in collaboration with PCI and St. Luke’s Nassif Radiation Center. Dr. Fusselman says these include interventional trials testing possible new treatments, observational trials that look at quality of life issues, and prevention trials looking for ways to stop disease from developing. Cassells is participating in one such prevention trial.

“We suspect anti-inflammatory drugs may reduce the risk of colon cancer by preventing polyps,” Dr. Fusselman explains. “These small growths can form in the colon and in some cases turn into cancer. If a drug successfully reduces the number of polyps that form, it can potentially keep cancer from developing.”

Dr. Fusselman describes the trial as a double-blind study, in which neither he nor participants like Cassells know if they are receiving the test drugs or a placebo—a harmless medicine that has no effect and serves as the control.

In Cassells’ case, she will receive medication for three years. At the end of that time she will have a colonoscopy to check for polyps. She admits, “Colonoscopies are not my favorite thing, but it’s the only way they can tell what’s going on. I would have one as part of my regular follow-up care, regardless of whether I’m in the trial.”

Dr. Fusselman says research like this is critical to advancing cancer prevention and treatment. He points to a recent study showing improvement in fighting some forms of advanced breast cancer as an example of the progress that’s being made. “Not only are we seeing cure rates go up, but we’re getting better at preventing a deadly version of breast cancer from occurring. We’ve gotten where we are today by learning from the work that has come before.”

Cassells hopes her participation will make a difference for future generations. “When Dr. Fusselman told me about this trial,” she says, “I knew it could benefit not just me, but lots of other people in the years to come.”

She adds, “We have excellent cancer care in Cedar Rapids. The doctors here work well as a team. Dr. Fusselman will sit and listen to you as long as you need. And my family physician was there every day during my hospital stay. I always knew someone was looking after me!”

For more information about clinical research trials available through the Community Cancer Center, talk to your physician or call (319) 368-5514.

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