You know you have had a full career when serving in Korea during the early post War period, contributing to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency and its Science Advisory Board, and improving the safety of mammograms are among your secondary accomplishments. That is the case with the National Cancer Institute’s Dr. Winfred Malone who, in addition to doing all of these things, led a new field of cancer prevention research.
Chemoprevention is the use of natural or synthetic substances to reduce the risk of developing cancer or to reduce the chance that cancer will recur. Just 25 years ago, the field of chemoprevention was virtually nonexistent. It was Dr. Winfred Malone who really moved chemoprevention forward and made it a practical strategy to reduce the social and economic burden of cancer.
Beginning in the early 1980’s, Dr. Malone, as Chief of the Chemoprevention Branch, established a systematic program for the evaluation of agents with the potential to prevent, reverse or delay the process of carcinogenesis—the process by which normal cells are transformed into cancer cells.
Until that time, cancer prevention involved attempts to identify and eliminate cancer causing agents from the environment and to detect and surgically remove early stage cancerous lesions.
With increasing knowledge about carcinogenesis as a process, Dr. Malone initiated a program to identify agents that might interrupt these processes in their early, non-cancerous stages and to develop and qualify these agents for clinical studies.
The first clinical trials identified 28 such agents. Among these agents were aspirin, calcium, Vitamin D and selenium which have now been clinically studied and shown to reduce adenomas, a putative pre-cancer, in the colon. Hundreds of peer reviewed articles and book chapters were published during this early period and have contributed to stimulating the continued interest of the national and international scientific community and of the National Cancer Institute in this new area of oncological research.
The breast cancer drug Tamoxifen is one of the best known examples of the types of chemoprevention therapies that have been developed. Studies have shown that women who have an increased risk of breast cancer who use Tamoxifen as a preventative drug were 49 percent less likely to develop breast cancer. Another example, the Vitamin A derivative, Fenretinide has been shown to reduce breast cancer recurrence in pre-menopausal women.
Earlier in his career at NIH, when chemoprevention was not even on the radar, Dr. Malone was detailed to the Hazardous Materials Advisory Committee. This group authored the “MRAK Report,” which recommended the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the banning of DDT and the need for control of carcinogenic chlorinated pesticides and toxic substances. This committee later became the Science Advisory Board at the EPA and Dr. Malone served as its first staff director.
Dr. Malone also served as the program director for the establishment of six radiological physics centers across the nation. The centers focused on improving radiological diagnostic and treatment protocols for cancer. One of the significant accomplishments of the centers was the development of a protocol which initially reduced radiation exposures by 30 percent in mammography. This greatly improved the value and safety of mammography for breast cancer detection and greatly reduced radiation exposures to millions of women.
Dr. Malone has spent four decades in public service. He should take pride in knowing that four decades from now and beyond, his work to prevent cancer and improve public health will still be positively impacting countless people’s lives.