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Dr. Yusuf Hannun

By Yusuf A. Hannun, M.D.

Dr. Yusuf Hannun

Recently the New York State Department of Health (DOH) reported elevated levels of leukemia, bladder cancer, thyroid cancer and lung cancer in three central Long Island communities — Farmingville, Selden and Centereach. 

As Suffolk County’s only academic-based cancer research facility, Stony Brook University Cancer Center has researchers working with DOH scientists to interpret the data and look at possible causes of these high incidence rates.

More information and analysis are needed

The state’s reports raise important questions about possible reasons, what the results mean and what can be done to change them. First, we need to determine which subtypes of the four cancers are responsible for these higher incidence rates. Each type of cancer can be divided into subtypes, based on certain characteristics of the cancer cells, and these subtypes may have distinct causes and risk factors. It’s important to know the subtype of a cancer to identify the possible causes.

Also, it is important to know whether mortality rates from these cancers are higher in the three Long Island communities than they are in the rest of the state. This information is critical because sometimes increases in incidence rates are due to improved diagnosis and detection. We must determine if the data in the DOH study truly are the results of higher incidences, which can be assessed by determining whether the higher incidence rates have translated into higher mortality rates. 

Findings for Farmingville, Centereach and Selden

Bladder cancer, lung cancer, thyroid cancer and leukemia were diagnosed at statistically significant elevated levels in Farmingville, Centereach and Selden, according to the DOH data. The cancer incidences were identified with information from the New York State Cancer Registry.

The registry collects reports on cancer diagnoses from health care providers, which include the sites of tumors, the stages when diagnosed, the cell types of the cancer, treatment information and demographic information. Every person diagnosed with cancer in New York state is reported to the registry. The incidences also were identified from statistical mapping of neighborhoods in the three communities. 

We learned that, from 2011 to 2015, the following number of cases occurred:

• 311 cases of lung cancer, 56 percent above statewide rate

• 112 cases of bladder cancer, 50 percent above statewide rate

• 98 cases of thyroid cancer, 43 percent above statewide rate

• 87 cases of leukemia, 64 percent above statewide rate

Cancer research

With all the resources of an academic medical center, the Stony Brook Cancer Center will move quickly to examine the findings from this study.

Transforming cancer care is the driving force behind the construction of our new cancer center, which will be located in the 240,000-square-foot, eight-story Medical Research and Translation (MART) building opening in November. It is where researchers will revolutionize breakthrough medical discoveries and create lifesaving treatments to deliver the future of cancer care today.

For more information on the DOH study, or the Stony Brook Cancer Center, call us at 631-638-1000 or visit www.cancer.stonybrookmedicine.edu.

Dr. Yusuf A. Hannun is the director of the Stony Brook University Cancer Center and vice dean for cancer medicine.

Dr. Jennifer Arnold leads the Parade of Survivors. Photo by Cindy Swanson

By Heidi Sutton

On Sunday, June 4, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in various locations across the country for National Cancer Survivors Day, a celebration of life for anyone who has been touched by cancer. Locally, the Stony Brook Cancer Center hosted its 13th annual event, made possible by sponsorship from the Stony Brook School of Medicine and Stony Brook University.

The weather cooperated as attendees participated in a variety of outdoor activities, such as the popular dunk-a-doc, bedpan golf, chemo bag toss and face painting, as well as musical entertainment. The day culminated with the Parade of Survivors to the tune of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”

Dr. Yusuf Hannun

“There is really no activity that I look forward to more every year than what we are doing here today, to celebrate you and to celebrate survivorship,” said Dr. Yusuf Hannun, director of the Stony Brook Cancer Center, to a crowd of survivors, doctors, nurses, family members and friends. “Looking around … I am really humbled to see how this event has been growing exponentially, from very modest beginnings of a handful of dedicated volunteers and determined survivors, to today with over 1,300 [attendees], 300 of them survivors,” he said.

Hannun also took the opportunity to speak about the new 245,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art Medical and Research Translation (MART) building, which served as the backdrop to the event and is scheduled to open by the end of this year. The director stated the new facility “will allow us to serve twice as many patients and their families … and allow us to continue to push back against cancer at all times. We are very excited to move into that building.”

The keynote speaker of the day was Dr. Jennifer Arnold, who is featured on TLC’s docudrama, “The Little Couple” along with her husband, Bill, who is originally from Port Jefferson Station, and their beautiful children, Will and Zoey. The show has served as an invaluable way to break down barriers and educate the public about people with disabilities.

Dr. Jennifer Arnold

Standing at just 3 feet and 2 inches, Arnold was born with a rare type of dwarfism called spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia, Strudwick type and has undergone over 30 surgeries in her lifetime. In 2013 she was diagnosed with stage 3 choriocarcinoma, a rare cancer that developed after a non-viable pregnancy. She graciously chose to share her fight with viewers of her show.

Now a three-year cancer survivor, Arnold shared her journey and personal lessons learned at Sunday’s event with a dynamic, motivational and inspirational presentation titled Surviving with Grace and received several standing ovations.

“Although I had a lot of life lessons [growing up], nothing taught me more than going through cancer,” said Arnold. “Sometimes life throws a wrench into the middle of your world and you have to be ready for that because life is short, no pun intended.”

“Going through chemotherapy changes you a lot, physically, emotionally, mentally…,” she said. After chemo, “I didn’t go back to normal, but I did go back to life. Truly it takes a village to go through your treatment and survivorship. It’s okay to accept that help.”

Arnold continued, “This is a wonderful life that we have and I am so blessed to be alive and to be able to share my story and I know that many of you in the audience feel the same way. … Whether it’s the fact that you’ve undergone treatment for cancer or whether you’ve had other obstacles in life, I hope that you too can overcome those obstacles and that you can survive with grace.”

The Dec. 1, 2016 Ribbon cutting for the The Kavita and Lalit Bahl Center for Metabolomics and Imaging. From left to right: Dr. Lina Obeid, Dr. Yusuf Hannun, Lalit Bahl, Kavita Bahl, President Samuel L. Stanley and Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky.

By Yusuf Hannun, M.D.

Dr. Yusuf Hannun
Dr. Yusuf Hannun

Propelled by the vision and support of Kavita and Lalit Bahl of Setauket and their two generous gifts totaling $13.75 million, this month the Stony Brook University Cancer Center unveiled The Kavita and Lalit Bahl Center for Metabolomics and Imaging.

For all of us at the Cancer Center, we believe this combined gift will have a decades-long impact on advancing cancer research, individualized medical treatments and patient care, with potentially dramatic advantages for families on Long Island and beyond.

A state-of-the-art facility, the Bahl Center capitalizes on Stony Brook University’s strengths in three major areas: research, treatment and imaging. At the research level, many university departments, including engineering, informatics, applied math, physics and chemistry, will be instrumental in synthesizing data and collaborating on studies. In the clinical care arena, the Cancer Center’s physician experts will be a vital resource in developing prevention, diagnostic and treatment protocols from the new discoveries. Our medical imaging researchers will provide innovative approaches in using the technology and insight into the imaging studies.

Our ultimate goal is to transform precision-based cancer care by enabling scientists and physicians at our Cancer Center to learn more about the characteristics and behavior of each patient’s specific cancer. The center concentrates on the field of metabolomics, one of the most promising approaches to individualized cancer treatment. Metabolomics explores how cancer cells manufacture and use energy, allowing the disease to start, grow and spread, as well as how different types of cancer respond to different treatments. At its core, the Bahl Center is a translational research program that is uniquely positioned to drive innovative cancer research to the next level of discovery:

Cutting-edge Technology. The gift allows us to purchase a cyclotron, which is a particle accelerator that creates tracer molecules. The tracer molecules bind to cancer cells and can be viewed during a positron emission tomography (PET) scan.

Advanced Imaging. We will have two new PET scanners in close proximity to the cyclotron. By using the tracer molecules, our researchers will be able to develop novel applications of PET scans to image multiple aspects of cancers. This will provide new information about how cancer develops, how it can be detected with more precision and how therapy can be tailored and monitored.

Robust Research Program. We are fortunate to have widely respected researchers in the fields of lipids and metabolomics, cancer biology, medical imaging and computational oncology already here at Stony Brook. With this gift, we will be able to recruit key experts in areas that complement our strengths to drive the center to new levels of excellence.

The knowledge we gain will help revolutionize precision-based cancer diagnosis and care. It will lead to earlier detection, new treatment targets and improved monitoring of treatment response, as well as a better understanding of how to prevent cancer from developing in the first place.

For Long Island residents, the Bahl Center’s location at Stony Brook University Cancer Center means that patients will have the benefit of being treated by professionals who are on the forefront of transformative cancer discoveries.

The Kavita and Lalit Bahl Center for Metabolomics and Imaging research program was officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Dec. 1. We’re currently working in Stony Brook University School of Medicine laboratories but will relocate to dedicated facilities in our new Medical and Research Translation (MART) building when it opens in 2018. To learn more, please visit www.cancer.stonybrookmedicine.edu.

Dr. Yusuf Hannun is the director of the Stony Brook University Cancer Center, vice dean for cancer medicine and Joel Strum Kenny Professor in Cancer Research.

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