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College of Arts & Sciences

Senior conducts cancer research over the summer in Jamaica


By Gillian McGhee
Student reporter | Class of 2014

Not many students get to study at an island paradise while working on cancer research. But Christian Capanna, a senior biology and classical civilizations double-major, got to do that for 12 weeks this summer in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Through an international health program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health, Capanna conducted research on public awareness of prostate cancer in Jamaica. He and another student from the program interviewed 600 Jamaican men about their knowledge of this serious disease.

“I don’t think I ever talked to so many people in my life,” Capanna said. “All I did all day was talk to people who are patients. Sometimes they actually thought I was a doctor.”

According to a 2012 study, prostate cancer affects more Jamaican men than any other form of cancer. When prostate cancer is caught early on, the patient has a high chance of being cured with proper treatment. The program Capanna worked on aims to have more men get preliminary testing.

Apart from conducting interviews, Capanna also gave daily informational lectures on prostate cancer to the men.

Three to six months from now, full-time researchers on the project in Jamaica will go back and contact the 600 interviewed to see if they have been tested for prostate cancer. This is meant to measure the effectiveness of the awareness program.

Capanna’s trip, for which he receiveed a monthly stipend, living allowance, travel expenses, and research expenses, was his first time travelling out of the United States.

In addition to honing his interviewing and patient-communication skills, Capanna also was schooled on living conditions in Jamaica.

“I learned how to rough it, and I learned how spoiled I was in America,” he said.

Capanna also took a trip to a rural clinic in the mountains, which opened his eyes to the quality of health care in the region.

“We drove an hour up some road that basically wasn’t a road,” he said. “[The clinic] was only one room and you had to bring the water to flush the toilet. We are used to working in big hospitals in this country.”

Although Capanna’s work was more focused on communication than science, he says his experience was “a lot more relevant to the medical field” over all.

Now that he is back in the United States, Capanna is applying to medical schools—in Chicago and beyond—so that he can pursue his dream of becoming a doctor after graduation.



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