A future without cancer hero image

Cancer interrupts our lives. But at VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center, a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, we give patients their lives back with the treatment advancements we’re making through our world-class research. Every day we rededicate ourselves to better understanding cancer, to preventing it, to treating it with the most advanced therapies available and to reducing cancer disparities. All so that our patients can get on with their lives – without cancer.

To discover new ways to treat and prevent cancer, our Massey researchers conduct lab, clinical and population sciences research. We are a national leader in translating our research discoveries to patient care and to making these advancements equally available to all.

And it’s all for you, our patients and your families, and the future you’ve planned.

Imagine a future without cancer.

Our breakthroughs are making it possible

One revolutionary idea. One promising clinical trial. One new breakthrough. Partnering with the community to discover and develop new drugs and better treatments that save lives and to design new approaches to health equity is how VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center is moving toward a future without cancer. Here are a few recent discoveries by our research teams.

If breast cancer recurs following a lumpectomy and whole breast radiation, standard treatment has been a mastectomy. That may be changing thanks to results from a clinical trial led by VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center and conducted across the country.

The study showed that a second lumpectomy combined with partial breast reirradiation is as effective as standard treatment. “These women are now able to have a breast-conserving treatment choice that is a viable alternative to mastectomy,” says Massey physician-researcher Douglas W. Arthur, M.D., chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology, who led the study. Read the full story 

White blood cells help the body fight infections. But an abnormal form of white blood cells called myeloma cells can spur the growth of bone tumors instead in a form of cancer called multiple myeloma. VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers have discovered a protein that controls the genes that enable myeloma cells to proliferate. The protein, THZ1, also enhances the effectiveness of drugs already in use to treat multiple myeloma.

The discovery opens the door to using the protein and others like it for people whose disease has been resistant to current treatments. And Massey researchers are already working hard to transform their discoveries in the laboratory into treatments for patients. Read the full story 

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is known to cause most cervical cancers as well as many head and neck and other cancers. Yet a childhood vaccine can prevent the infection by the virus – and the cancers it causes. While HPV vaccination rates are increasing overall, children in rural areas are 11 percent less likely to receive this lifetime protection than others. To understand why, Massey’s Cancer Prevention and Control researchers turned to Facebook.

They conducted virtual focus groups with rural parents on the social media platform, then analyzed their responses. That analysis will guide messaging that relieves the concerns of rural families about the vaccination so that more children can be protected against these cancers. The study also showed the value of using social media in research to reduce health disparities. “It offers an unprecedented opportunity to reach out and engage large populations in real-world settings,” says Sunny Jung Kim, Ph.D., lead researcher on the study. Read the full story 

Too often the most aggressive type of brain tumor, glioblastoma multiforme, becomes resistant to radiation and chemotherapy. Searching for existing drugs that might overcome that resistance, VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers discovered that a common drug used to treat malaria could be the answer. The drug, lumefantrine, works by binding to a genetic element in the tumor that controls that resistance. With lumefantrine present, the tumor’s ability to resist treatment is neutralized. That’s good news in the fight against brain cancer – and other cancers too, because the same genetic element is found in melanoma, ovarian cancer, breast cancer and more. “The present results may have broader implications than just treating glioblastoma,” says Massey researcher Paul B. Fisher, M.Ph., Ph.D., FNAI, the principal investigator of the study recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Read the full story 

Cancer immunotherapy empowers a patient’s own immune system to fight back against tumor cells. To boost the immune system’s ability to fight cancer, Massey researcher Julian Zhu, Ph.D., developed a vaccine that in laboratory studies successfully treated colorectal cancer cells in combination with drugs that inhibit the function of specific proteins.

In pre-clinical experiments, the combination demonstrated a complete regression without recurrence in about 60 percent of cancer cells. “This is a war between cancer cells and the immune system,” Zhu says. “We’re trying to help the immune system to tilt the balance against cancer and elicit a more effective and durable response.” Read the full story 

Our patients' stories

Life after cancer

Dodge Havens

Dodge Havens (video)

Stage IV kidney cancer

Dodge needed aggressive treatment to treat his cancer. Through it all, he kept paddling his canoe.

Read Dodge's story
Lulú De Panbehchi image

Lulú De Panbehchi

Breast cancer

Lulú believes in staying positive. "My philosophy is the more you smile the better you feel."

Read Lulú's story
Bob Holdsworth

Bob Holdsworth (video)

Stage III oral cancer

Bob always dreamed of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. After surviving cancer, he did it.

Read Bob's story
Rhonda Anderson

Rhonda Anderson

Breast cancer in a pandemic

Rhonda prepared for her cancer treatment by taking a vacation with her girlfriends.

Read Rhonda's story
Father and son fishing image
Our researchers' stories

Dedicated to discovery, determined to help every patient

Year after year, from laboratory studies to clinical trials, our researchers build our understanding of how to prevent and stop cancer. With one of the largest selections of cancer clinical trials in Virginia and in collaboration with our community and with other leading cancer centers across the country, VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center offers a steady stream of discoveries and innovations in oncology.

Candance McGuire

Kandace McGuire, M.D.

Chief of breast surgery

Kandance McGuire planned to become a family physician. Then her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

As Kandace McGuire learned more about breast cancer research and treatment, she realized her future was in surgery — and helping women like her mom. Today, as chief of breast surgery at VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center, McGuire researches new therapies for breast cancer and ways to minimize breast cancer intervention while improving outcomes. She also focuses on reducing the disparities in breast cancer detection, treatment and survivorship due to age, race or socioeconomic status. “Breast cancer outcomes tend to be very good, but we need to figure out ways to keep those good outcomes, while reducing the amount of intervention we are giving.”

Dr. Robert Winn

Robert Winn, M.D.

Director of VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center

Rob Winn’s personal mission and VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center’s mission are the same: to relieve suffering and death from cancer for all people.

Rob Winn joined VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center as director in December 2019, inspired by the mission of Massey to speed the science of discovery to the care of patients — and to do so in a way that is informed by and benefits the local community. “At Massey, we work to ensure that every person has equal access to outstanding care, no matter who you are.” And that care is made possible by the dedication of the researchers led by Winn. “It’s our obsession with the day-in, day-out work of understanding cancer, finding new therapies and better ways to treat it that make it possible for our patients to put cancer in their past, to move on to everything else they want to do with their lives.” View video of Rob Winn sharing his vision for Massey

Image of Frank Gupton, Ph.D., and Keith Ellis, Ph.D.

Medicines for All Institute Collaboration

Frank Gupton, Ph.D., and Keith Ellis, Ph.D.

Cutting-edge research requires cutting-edge partnerships.

When Massey’s scientists need cancer drugs so new that they’re not yet available from pharmaceutical manufacturers, they turn to fellow Massey researcher Frank Gupton. He leads the Medicines for All Institute (M4ALL) in the VCU College of Engineering, a research hub dedicated to synthesizing recently discovered molecules to speed their use for patient care. “By coupling Dr. Gupton’s drug synthesis powerhouse with Massey’s oncology research powerhouse,” says Massey researcher Keith Ellis, “we have an effective way for the cancer center to have access to molecules that it wouldn’t otherwise have access to, and to develop new drugs for targets that Massey researchers are already working on.” Funded in part by the Gates Foundation, M4All also seeks to lower the cost of oncology treatments. “I constantly ask my colleagues and the folks at the Gates Foundation if anybody is doing this,” says Gupton. “The feedback is there aren’t many people in the U.S. or around the world that are doing what we’re doing.” View video about Massey’s collaboration with M4ALL

Image of Devanand Sarkar, M.B.B.S., Ph.D.

Devanand Sarkar, M.B.B.S., Ph.D.

Liver cancer researcher

Devanand Sarkar is unraveling the mystery of liver cancer to beat the disease that claimed the life of a friend

Fatty liver disease caused by obesity is one of the primary causes of liver cancer in America. But exactly how fat deposits in the liver lead to cancer has remained a mystery. When Massey researcher Devanand Sarkar lost a friend and colleague to liver cancer, he decided to unravel the mystery. Beginning with the discovery over a decade ago of a gene, AEG-1, that overexpresses in the most common form of liver cancer, Sarkar has persisted in his mission by identifying the ways in which AEG-1 accelerates the progression of liver cancer. Using mouse models, Sarkar and his team have now shown how AEG-1 interacts with different molecules, how it is connected to obesity and how inhibiting it blocks the growth of liver cancer cells. But he’s not done yet. Other genes that play a role in liver cancer have attracted Sarkar’s attention, and his investigations are leading to treatments that beat the disease that claimed the life of a friend.