While the world has been consumed by the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing epidemic of sickness and death wrought by cancer will be the focus of an international group of scholars gathering at Boston College for the October 2 conference “The Rising Global Cancer Pandemic: Health, Ethics, and Social Justice.”

The daylong series of scholarly presentations and panel discussions in the Corcoran Commons Heights Room, which can also be viewed online, will feature Boston College researchers, experts from the United States, and international scholars in areas including medicine, scientific research, public health, law, and ethics.

Kurt Straif, M.D.

Kurt Straif, M.D.

“We’re excited to explore the intersection between cancer epidemiology and cancer ethics to benefit from expertise in different fields, a global perspective on cancer control, and cancer ethics,” said Visiting Professor of Epidemiology Kurt Straif, an organizer of the program. “The ethical aspect of the cancer pandemic is the specific topic of this conference. This program will look at a global public health issue and investigate this from an ethical perspective and see what can be done to improve global public health and what BC can contribute to those efforts.”

Cancer is the first or second leading cause of death in 134 countries, with nearly 20 million new cases diagnosed each year. Diagnoses are predicted to rise to 24 million annually by 2035, Straif said.

As life expectancy increases, more people will have a cancer diagnosis during their lifetime. Yet there remain wide disparities in prevention, diagnoses, treatment, and survival between the citizens of wealthy, industrialized countries and those living in nations of the Global South, according to Michael P. Walsh Professor of Bioethics Andrea Vicini, S.J., another organizer of the event along with Professor of Biology Philip Landrigan, M.D.

“We are interested in an ethical approach that is interdisciplinary where we can engage in dialogue and collaboration with scholars from different disciplines,” said Fr. Vicini, who, like Straif, trained as a physician. “As an ethicist, I want to learn what affects the lives of people today, how we can address these challenges, and how can we help our society to be more just in our response to the needs of people, particularly those on the margins.

Andrea Vicini, S.J.

Andrea Vicini, S.J.

“This is how the mission of the University expands from teaching and research and aims to reach out to people living their daily lives and the urgencies of the planet and the ways we can be part of this process of transformation in this world,” Fr. Vicini added.

By bringing together experts in a range of fields, Straif said, the goal is to begin to create models for a holistic approach to prevention strategies, effective treatments, and research into a disease linked to multiple causal factors, from exposure to pollutants, to genetic predisposition, to viral and parasitic infections.

Additional Boston College faculty participants include School of Theology and Ministry Associate Professor Daniel Daly, Associate Professor of Communication Ashley Duggan, Professor of Engineering Glenn Gaudette, Connell School of Nursing Associate Professor Joyce Edmonds, BC School of Social Work Associate Professor Summer Sherburne Hawkins, Libby Professor of Law and Theology Cathleen Kaveny and BC Law Professor David Wirth, and Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society Seidner Family Executive Director Laura Steinberg.

DeLuca Professor in Biology and Vice Provost for Research and Academic Planning Tom Chiles will deliver opening remarks and Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences Dean Gregory Kalscheur, S.J., will moderate a discussion between Straif and Fr. Vicini.

Philip Landrigan

Philip Landrigan, M.D.

International participants will be coming from Chile, India, Italy, Rwanda, and Spain.

Straif and Fr. Vicini said it is important to incorporate as many perspectives as possible into efforts to combat the far-reaching toll taken by cancer around the world. The participants will also hear from cancer survivors, including two BC alumni, and University employees including a staff member, and Vice Provost for Global Engagement James Keenan, S.J. In addition, undergraduates have been invited to present posters as part of the program.

Conference sponsors include the Program for Global Public Health and the Common Good and the Department of Theology, as well as support from the Institute for the Liberal Arts.

Fr. Vicini said the research and discussions from the conference will be incorporated into a publication. In 2019, the University held a conference that examined global public health and the content from that event has just been published in an open-access book Ethical Challenges in Global Public Health: Climate Change, Pollution, and the Health of the Poor.

The conference can be attended in-person or online. To see a complete schedule or to register, visit the conference website.


Ed Hayward | University Communications | September 2021