UGA professor receives $3 million grant from National Cancer Institute for breast cancer research

10/25/04

For one University of Georgia professor, research means the most fundamental of all differences – the difference between life and death.

Three years ago Jeffrey K. Springston, associate professor in the department of advertising and public relations of the Grady College at Journalism and Mass Communication, underwent successful surgery for prostate cancer after a routine screening caught the disease early.

Diagnosed at only 42, Springston calls himself "the classic poster child for early detection." Doctors told him he may not have lived to be 50 if the cancer hadn't been detected early. "But they caught it and so far I'm doing great," said Springston. "Fortunately I was practicing what I preach. Thank goodness."

Ironically Springston began preaching the importance of cancer screening about eight years ago because the disease was so common in his family.

"Clearly having cancer so prevalent in my life was a motivating factor in me applying my research in the direction of health communications," said Springston. "My own experience has been a real validation of my research. For me this is professional and personal."

The National Cancer Institute has awarded Springston a $3 million grant to research the differences between promoting breast cancer screening by comparing the effectiveness of the use of CD-ROMs against person-to-person telephone consultations.

Springston will design the CD at UGA and will conduct the research over the next five years with professors from Indiana University and Duke University. The study population will be women enrolled in managed care organizations in Indianapolis and the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area.

"We want to see if one of these methods promotes mammography screening more effectively," said Springston. "We are also concerned with cost-effectiveness. That is a major part of the study, to see if the CD-ROM is viable economically. We hypothesize that over time it will be much cheaper. While it will be more costly up front, over the long haul it becomes more economical.

"With the telephone method, you need a lot of highly trained people, but research has shown this to be a very effective way to promote the screenings."

Springston said women should be tested annually for breast cancer after reaching the age of 40 or 50, depending on which doctor you ask – and earlier if there is a strong family history of the disease.

"I'm excited about this line of research because it can make such a huge difference," said Springston. "If caught early, the American Cancer Society indicates that over 95 percent of women can be cured of breast cancer. If you don't catch it early, that number starts to drop."

Colon cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer should not kill most people, Springston said.

"Having the power to stop people from dying from this disease lies in communication. A lot of time people literally don't know they need to go do something. We are providing information to them," he said.

Springston began his career in broadcast news and later in corporate public relations before returning to school to further study public relations and corporate communications.

He said research in health communications is a "great way for me to apply my hobbies of messing around with computers and video, and harnessing that into something that is helpful."

Springston is also involved in a $196,000 program funded by the Georgia Cancer Coalition with Robert Galen of the UGA College of Pharmacy to create a "one-stop shop" for cancer information on the Internet.

A centralized cancer Web site will be accessible through kiosks placed in Athens-area pharmacies, a project Springston hopes to have operational by January 2005.

"Our ultimate goal is to have the kiosks set up all over the state," he said.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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