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Delaware Today Health and Wellness: The cancer battle and the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center at Christiana Care Health System in Newark and Wilmington, medical director Dr. Nicholas J. Petrelli

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Over a decade ago, Delaware had the highest rate of cancer incidence and mortalities in the nation, according to the National Cancer Institute. Today, Delaware isn’t even in the top 10.

According to Dr. Nicholas J. Petrelli, medical director of the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center at Christiana Care Health System in Newark, these rates are actually dropping twice as fast in Delaware as they are in the rest of the country. Other states are now looking at Delaware as a testament of what can be achieved in the fight against cancer.

“The real key is that in the past we spent a lot of our resources on treating advanced stages of cancer,” says Petrelli. “But lately there’s been a paradigm shift. We now know that lifestyle behaviors and family history are the two main factors in cancer cases, and neither one is expensive to manage.”

This shift brought about a change in cancer research, taking the focus down to the molecular level. It has since been proven that several of the most common types of cancer—including breast, colon, rectal, ovarian and thyroid—are passed genetically. “Because of these findings, genetic counseling and testing is now available throughout Delaware. These tests enable us to find early cases of cancer and, more importantly, to prevent future cases,” Petrelli says.

To fully utilize these genetic tests, researchers had to find and institute new ways of dealing with cancer. One popular option is prophylaxis surgery—removing the at-risk source before it becomes cancerous—while another consists of taking preventive chemotherapy drugs that also help stave off cancer.

Besides being a strong advocate of prevention, Petrelli is also in favor of what has been coined the “multidisciplinary treatment,” in which a team of experts from different fields works to provide the absolute best treatment possible.

“It’s imperative to get the multidisciplinary treatment. A single doctor can’t provide the numerous different kinds of treatment that a patient needs,” says Petrelli. “In the fight against cancer, there’s no option other than teamwork.” —Andrew Gula

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