The American Cancer Society needs Middle Tennesseans who are willing to be tracked for the rest of their lives for no compensation. However, there is the promise of anonymity–and the hope that lives will be saved.
Most adults who haven’t had cancer are eligible for the new, nationwide study. There’s a survey and blood sample to start out with, then a new questionnaire every two years. Over time, as some participants develop cancer and others don’t, researchers expect to learn more about what triggers the disease.
Similar efforts begun in the 1950s and 80s discovered the links between cancer and things like smoking, air pollution and certain medications:
- Hammond-Horn Study: from 1952-1955, the society’s first large, long-term research effort specifically looked into the connection between cigarette smoking and cancer; 188,000 men participated.
- CPS-I (Cancer Prevention Study I): ran from 1959-1970 and followed about a million men and women in 25 states from 1959-1970. It showed sharp increase in lung cancer among female smokers and found a link between obesity and poor cancer survival rates. Questionnaires used in this study asked about family history, physical descriptions (height, weight, etc.), demographic information, occupation, physical activity and what participants ate, drank and smoked.
- CPS-II (Cancer Prevention Study II): began in 1982, with roughly 1.2 men and women in all 50 states. This study added more questions about exercise and behavior as well as what medicines and vitamins people take. It has pinned down connections between cancer risk and a factors such as use of hormone or aspirin, certain foods and obesity.
- CPS-II Nutrition Survey: in 1992, 184,000 of the CPS-II participants began supplying more detailed information about their diet.
- CPS-II Biorepository: 40,000 CPS II participants have agreed to submit blood samples and 70,000 have given cheek cell samples so that researchers can study their DNA in hopes of identifying genetic markers that may indicate likelihood of cancer
It’s been three decades since the last study began. In that time, there have been significant changes in Americans’ diet and lifestyle. What’s more, researchers say not enough minorities have been followed in the past, so they need a new group of study participants who are not only younger but more diverse.
Veronica Gliatti says she’s a prime example of why more research is needed. She survived a particularly intense bout with breast cancer, but there’s no indication of why she developed the condition. She has no family history, doesn’t smoke or drink heavily, and is physically fit. As Gliatti puts it, “I don’t fit any of the demographics. All the previous studies don’t indicate why I developed cancer.”
Roughly 300 Middle Tennesseans have already volunteered for the new study. That’s 200 short of the number the organization hopes to follow here. Nationally, the goal is to have 300-thousand participate.