Quest magazine

From the Director: Changing the behaviors that cause cancer

Dr. Larry Corey, President and Director

Dr. Larry Corey, Fred Hutch's President and Director

Photo by Matt Hagen

Fifty years ago, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a landmark report on the link between smoking and cancer. In this half century the scientific evidence of this association has only become stronger, and new connections between smoking and cardiovascular disease also have emerged. Yet despite some inroads, smoking remains a major public health issue. How does one get people to change their behavior?

It’s a difficult question, and sustainable, workable solutions to help people quit smoking are not universally available. However, Dr. Jonathan Bricker of our Public Health Sciences Division may be on the verge of such a breakthrough.

As this issue’s feature story explains, Bricker has developed a smoking-cessation program that uses an innovative, psychological approach to help people quit. Early studies have shown Bricker’s programs are 50 to 300 percent more effective than traditional interventions, and his team also developed a website and smartphone app to carry his approach beyond the clinic.

If clinical trials keep proving the program is effective, it could eventually give millions of people a better way to quit smoking. What’s more, evidence suggests that Bricker’s approach also could elicit behavioral change in other areas such as obesity and alcohol abuse.

This illustrates how Fred Hutch’s Cancer Prevention Program – which was the first of its kind in the U.S. – is at the forefront of finding new ways to prevent the disease. Its progress wouldn’t be possible without donors’ generous support.

When Bricker first wanted to pursue his research, his ideas were too new and untested to attract federal funding. So the Hutch awarded him a small grant, funded entirely by private donations, to do a pilot study. That study generated preliminary data that led to a multimillion-dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health.

It’s just one of many of examples of how Fred Hutch uses private dollars to test promising ideas. Thank you for supporting this process and helping us constantly improve our approach to eliminating cancer.