During October, the colors of fall are graced with a touch of pink, but researchers are not granted with the green they need.
Breast cancer awareness becomes prominent during October — its month of recognition — where students can partake in actions that can fund awareness and research for a cure, as well as make sure they are taking care of their bodies and families.
However, researchers close to Penn State have struggled to obtain steady funding for breast cancer research.
Throughout the years, breast cancer research has advanced in an effort to find a cure. This is seen at Penn State, where Dr. Craig Meyers, a researcher at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center, has been researching a therapeutic for breast cancer and other cancers.
While research advances, awareness increases. Breast cancer awareness advocates, such as the Susan G. Komen Foundation, stress the importance of staying in touch with one’s body and checking for abnormalities, as well as the importance of good health.
Penn State is also promoting awareness this month through various clubs and events, such as clubs raising money like Power of Pink. Through the various efforts to raise awareness and advance research for breast cancer, Penn State is contributing to finding a cure.
Researching for a cure
When Meyers and other researchers at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center found a certain virus killed cancer cells in cervical cancer, they decided to expand their research to other cancers — where funding became an issue.
Meyers, who has been researching for 25 years, works mainly with Human Papillomavirus and cervical cancer but switched when research began progressing in cancers.
Meyers said he has been researching with the AAV2 virus for 15 years on and off — when the funding is available.
He said they have received donations but are continuing to search for funding. The research will continue as the funding becomes available, he said.
“No other drug has had this complete of an effect as this,” Meyers said. “Not receiving funding is very frustrating.”
The AAV2 virus has progressed cancer research at the Penn State Medical Center. The virus is a common virus that isn’t harmful to humans, as previously reported.
The researchers looked at a virus called AAV2, which was acknowledged to interact with HPV. In a week, the HPV cells in the Petri dish had died, he said.
"It clearly wasn’t a mistake," Meyers said. "The virus was killing cervical cancer cells."
The virus had caused cells to commit “cell suicide,” which biologically is called apoptosis, Meyers said. The researchers published these findings with cervical cancers, and it was recommended to them that they try this virus with other forms of cancer, he said.
Miraculously, the virus also killed other types of cancer cells, Meyers said. The researchers then decided to focus on breast cancer because it affects a lot of women nationwide, he said.
Meyers focused on four different cell lines that ranged from mild to severe forms of breast cancer. The AAV2 killed the first three lines of the breast cancer cells, just as the virus did with the other forms of cancer, he said.
But what Meyers said he aimed to find was a central player — something in common among the cell lines.
The fourth line of cancer cells tested, however, took longer than the other lines to die. Meyers said these cells died after 21 days, whereas the others died after seven.
In order to continue testing these cell lines, Meyers and other researchers injected the cancerous cells into mice, where they soon developed tumors on their backs.
After tumors had formed, AAV2 was injected into some of the mice, whereas other mice did not receive any treatment, he said.
The mice that had not received the AAV2 injection became extremely ill, whereas the other mice’s tumors had become softer after being injecting with the AAV2, noting cell death in the tumors, Meyers said.
With this virus, Meyers said, cancer cells were dying in Petri dishes and animals. Now, he said, researchers involved will continue to focus on funding, as they don’t have as much as they need for future research.
Penn State helps the cause for a cure
When Taryn Noll found out her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in her freshman year of college, she was devastated she could not be at home with her.
Noll (senior-communication arts and sciences) wanted to join an organization on campus to support breast cancer research and awareness, but she couldn’t find any clubs on campus that focused on breast cancer, she said. That’s when she decided to start the Power of Pink club, which focuses year-round on supporting families affected by breast cancer.
“We are not only here to support women diagnosed with the disease but also to support the students who must be away from home while their loved ones battle it,” Noll said.
During October, The Power of Pink holds the Race to Save Second Base 5K race on campus that honors, remembers and celebrates those who have battled breast cancer, Noll said.
And as research in breast cancer continues, college students can also be aware of what they can do to help spread breast cancer awareness, as well as help search for a cure.
Looking around in October, there are a lot of logos for breast cancer, such as pink ribbons, said Susan Brown, managing director of community health at the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
Though Brown said there is a big opportunity to focus on breast cancer in October, awareness is not just confined to this month.
Kathy Purcell, CEO of the Pittsburgh Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, said students can raise awareness by creating events that raise money.
“Starting your own event to help raise money will help the fight against breast cancer,” she said.
Elaine Grobman, CEO of the Philadelphia affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, also said breast cancer awareness is prominent this month, and students can take an initiative to get involved around campus.
“Students definitely have an opportunity to learn about philanthropy,” she said. “They can learn about organizations they feel committed to around campus. Fundraising is easy when you’re motivated.”
For Penn State, she said awareness is clear during Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon. Breast cancer awareness could also be found around campus if students get involved, she said.
“It’s amazing that students could raise that much, and [THON] is known around the country,” she said.
Staying in-touch with your own body
With a new decade comes new responsibilities, and as women turn 20, they should be cautious about changes in their bodies that can lead to diseases such as breast cancer.
Brown said it is important for females in college to make sure that they are taking care of their bodies.
“It’s very unlikely that women will develop breast cancer in their early 20s, but that doesn’t mean you’re completely protected,” she said.
At the college level, Noll said she wants students to be aware of their bodies and to make notes of changes they may find.
Being educated about breast cancer can allow students to be more aware about it, Noll said.
“Early detection is very important and can save your life with this disease,” she said. “We want to open up the conversation about breast cancer.”
For females to take care of their own bodies, Brown said women should do self-checks on their breasts to search for irregularities. Starting at age 20, Brown said, woman should start getting screened for breast cancer, and continue to get screened every three years.
Grobman said it is important to stay in tune with one’s body to ensure nothing is wrong.
In addition to self-checks, Grobman said women should regularly see a gynecologist and talk to their parents.
“Take care of your body,” she said. "That’s your best weapon. Early detection is how we save lives.”
Brown said it is also important for girls to talk to their families about family medical history because girls are at higher risk for breast cancer if it runs in their families.
She said it is important to exercise regularly and to make healthy lifestyle choices, which reduces risk of breast cancer. Limiting alcohol consumption is also another reducer, she said.
“If you notice a change, be proactive,” Brown said. “You don’t know for sure unless you’re checked.”
Purcell said men should also be aware of breast cancer, even if it is less common than women being diagnosed. She said knowing family history is an important part of breast cancer awareness, as well as encouraging family members to be screened.
She also said that with self-awareness, self-examinations of breasts should be done to check for irregularities. She said that with self-checks, changes can be more noticeable.
While taking care of themselves, Grobman said it is important to take care of female relatives who may be affected by breast cancer. She said to make sure mothers, grandmothers and sisters are also being checked for breast cancer.
"Breast cancer affects everyone in college," she said. "And we’re all in this together."