Biology professor delivers informational cancer lecture

In conjunction with Alpha Chi Rho's Deep Freeze, Geneseo biology professor Robert O'Donnell gave a lecture on cancer and cancer research in Newton 214 on Tuesday evening.

O'Donnell began with some familiar figures that many people had heard before, but then shared some surprising facts: breast cancer is no longer the deadliest cancer for women in the United Sates; it was surpassed by lung cancer. In addition, lung cancer can take 20-30 years to develop, which means smokers may be at risk of developing the disease decades after quitting.

Tobacco, which even in its natural state contains many harmful carcinogens, together with poor diets comprised largely of red meat, processed foods and charcoaled or burned foods account for two-thirds of cancer-related deaths, O'Donnell said.

"Cancer is a single cell gone bad," O'Donnell said, defining the disease as a mutation of a normal cell that causes it to reproduce prematurely at uncontrollable rates, leading to tumors.

"If a pathologist says a tumor obeys the boundary of its organ or tissue and will not spread, it can become the size of grapefruit, can keep growing and growing, but will not kill you and remain benign. The exception is if it is in the brain. If it is on the arm, it will not kill you; it won't be pretty, but it will not kill you," O'Donnell said. "However, if a pathologist sees a tumor and says that if the cell is left, it will spread, then it is malignant and can be deadly."

O'Donnell stressed early detection as a way to combat potentially malignant tumors. "If you have any skin nodules, like birth marks, that darken or change in any way, they can be tumors and you'll want to have a dermatologist look at them," he said. "When localized, a tumor can be removed with little to no scarring and you'll get a Band-Aid. If you let it invade into a tissue, there will be more to remove, and will be a more complicated and expensive procedure."

O'Donnell gave an anagram for seven signs of cancer that should alert one to get checked, CAUTION: Change in bowel or bladder habits, A sore that does not heal, Unusual bleeding or discharge, Thickening lump in breasts or elsewhere, Indigestion and difficulty swallowing, Obvious change in wart or mole, Nagging cough or hoarseness.

Cancer treatment has improved greatly over the years, O'Donnell said. Testicular cancer, which once had a death rate of 80 percent, is now 95 percent curable with new drugs.

Junior KelliAnne Connolly is currently one of O'Donnell's research students and is studying the effects of a chemical found in black licorice that causes cell death, a possible cure for the excessive reproduction that causes cancer. "I'm happy I went [to the lecture]," she said. "It was a good refresher on how serious cancer is and the benefits of cancer research."