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Diane Fink, 69; Launched Cancer Prevention, Education Programs

October 17, 2005|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Dr. Diane Fink, an oncologist who spearheaded national cancer prevention and education programs that are credited with decreasing the rate of cancer in the United States and improving the quality of life of cancer patients, has died. She was 69.

Fink died of a heart attack Sept. 30 while attending an American Cancer Society meeting near her home in Oakland, said her daughter, Dr. Laura Fink DeFina.

Pat Felts, head of the American Cancer Society, California Division, where Fink worked, said the doctor was at the forefront of studying the psychosocial effect of cancer on a patient's family and helped link cancer prevention to environmental factors, physical activity and nutrition.

"She was a pioneer in a lot of areas throughout her whole career," Felts said.

Next week, the American Cancer Society is to release a study that shows that cancer rates dropped between 1989 and 2003. In California, the incidence rate for cancer has decreased 12% and the mortality rate 19%, according to the study.

"Everything Dr. Fink did over her career had a tremendous impact on those numbers," Felts said.

After going to work for the society in 1981, Fink started a breast cancer detection awareness program and implemented a nationwide computerized telephone system to deliver cancer information to the public.

She also stressed communication when she moved to the society's California division in 1989. A statewide cancer resource network that she helped develop for newly diagnosed patients is scheduled to be in place by the end of 2006.

"She was a great collaborator," Felts said. "She also had a great sense of humor and was very caring."

Fink spent a decade at the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health, which she joined in 1971 in Bethesda, Md. One project she originated led to the American Cancer Society's release of guidelines on diet, nutrition and cancer in 1996.

She co-wrote "The American Cancer Society Cookbook," which contended that the risk of getting cancer could be reduced through healthful eating, a relatively new concept in 1988. One recipe was "Granola Without Oil."

Fink, the daughter of a railroad administrator and his homemaker wife, was born and raised in Chicago. She received a medical degree from Stanford University in 1960.

By 1969, Fink was the chief of oncology at the Veterans Administration Hospital in San Francisco but believed that she could help more people if she became involved in cancer prevention and control.

"This was kind of her life journey to try to decrease the impact of cancer on people's lives," DeFina said.

"She was very devoted to the population that had cancer and very interested in educating the next generation of doctors."

Widowed when her two children were young, Fink raised them alone and brought home her causes.

"I was probably the only kid on the block growing up who knew what a mammogram was," her daughter said.

In addition to DeFina, Fink is survived by another daughter, Janice; and two grandchildren.

Instead of flowers, the family requests contributions be made in Fink's name to the Young Cancer Survivor Scholarship Program, American Cancer Society, California Division, 1710 Webster St., Oakland, CA 94612.

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