Gaining insight on cancer

CSU researcher examines link between exercise, diet and cancer


Maintaining a healthy weight has long been touted as one of the best ways to prevent cancer, but one Colorado State University researcher wants to know more.

Henry Thompson, director of CSU's Cancer Prevention Laboratory, wants to know if it's the diet or the exercise that helps prevent cancer, and he's going to spend a $1.3 million National Institutes of Health grant during the next four years to try to find the answer.

Thompson has specialized in breast cancer during his career. Except for skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 40,580 women died from breast cancer in 2004, and 215,990 women were diagnosed with it during that same year.
Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the United States.

Nick Fernandez talks with Dr. Henry Thompson about revisions of the motorized activity wheel
Sherri Barber/The Coloradoan
  PREVENTING CANCER: Nick Fernandez, left, a mechanical engineer graduate research associate at CSU, and Henry Thompson, professor and director of Cancer Prevention Lab at CSU, go over the continuing revisions of the motorized activity wheel that is sitting on the desk in front of them Friday. The project examines exercise and energy intake in breast cancer prevention.

Gaining 10 pounds after age 30 significantly increases an adult's risk of cancer, Thompson said, but researchers aren't clear why 10 pounds seems to be the threshold. When it comes to cancer prevention, there are many unanswered questions, he said.

Thompson wants to focus on the changes a body goes through as a person becomes overweight.
"Rather than being distracted by the fatness, we are focusing on the journey," Thompson said.
Thompson works regularly with women who are either breast cancer survivors or have a history of breast cancer in their families. But much of his research starts in a lab with mice.
With the help from College of Engineering students, Thompson developed a clear, plastic box with an exercise wheel inside that is hooked to a computer. As a mouse turns on the wheel, food pellets are dispensed into the box.

This system allows Thompson to control and track the amount of exercise of each mouse.
"We have complete control of both the food intake and the energy expended," Thompson said.
The mouse and the machines will allow Thompson to answer questions - in terms of cancer prevention - such as whether running is better than walking, if long exercise sessions are better than short ones and if frequent exercise is more beneficial than sporadic sessions.

"People want to know the answers to these questions yesterday," Thompson said.
If Thompson were to use humans, the tests could take up to seven years to complete.
"I'm looking to get answers to these provocative questions in months, not years, so we can transfer that information to the community," Thompson said.

Originally published March 7, 2005


Colorado State University CHOICE BreastWatch