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National Cancer Prevention Study Launched

Shelia M. Poole, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Posted May 30, 2012

Lauren Teras Huebner wants to pay it forward.

For the next two decades or so, the Decatur mother of three will join thousands of other Americans sharing their lives for a massive cancer prevention project run from Atlanta.

The American Cancer Society, which is based here, is looking for at least 300,000 volunteers nationwide to participate in the Cancer Prevention Study-3, the third such national study conducted by the organization since the late 1950s. So far, about 125,000 people have signed up.

The first Cancer Prevention Study, conducted from 1959 to 1972, examined the link between tobacco use and cancer and is considered a key guide to national policy and changing public attitudes. A second study, still going on, is exploring the correlation between cancer and factors such as obesity and diet.

Cancer is no stranger to Huebner's family and circle of friends. Her paternal grandmother had breast cancer and died of endometrial cancer in 1989. Huebner's father was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 1998 and is a survivor. The disease is returning and he has been hospitalized several times recently for related complications. Huebner's maternal grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago and is in remission.

She said her decision to join the study, which is confidential, was a "no-brainer."

"My hope for this study is to find more detailed answers about what causes and what can prevent cancer," said Huebner, a senior epidemiologist at the Cancer Society. "I hope that my children and my children's children never have to hear the words 'You have cancer.' "

The study does not involve treatments and is open to people who have never been diagnosed with cancer, said Alpa V. Patel, strategic director.

Volunteers, who are not paid, will be asked to complete a survey, provide physical measurements like weight and blood pressure and give a blood sample initially. They also will fill out mailed questionnaires every two to three years, in which they will relate any illnesses and lifestyle changes.

"We're asking [participants] to share what they already do in their lives," Patel said. What medications do they take? How much do they exercise? What do they eat?

"Each generation is paying it forward to the next," Patel said. "We're still reaping the benefit of what CPS-1 and CPS-2 learned about cancer."

Findings from the earlier studies and many others have improved understanding of a wide range of factors -- such as obesity, exercise, sedentary behavior, genetics, hormone use and occupation -- and how they affect a person's risk of developing or dying from different cancers.

Despite strides in detection and treatment, cancer remains one of the biggest killers in the United States. Experts project 1.63 million new cases and 577,190 deaths this year.

"These large, population-based studies really look into the association between lifestyle and cancer development," said Dr. Walter J. Curran Jr., executive director of the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. "Hopefully, when significant associations are made, they can perhaps influence many of us on our lifestyle choices."

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, for instance, conducted one of the largest and longest-running projects to study factors affecting women's health. The Nurses' Health Study, which began in 1976 and recruited hundreds of thousands of nurses and nursing students as participants, resulted in better understanding about cancer, heart disease and diabetes in women and the importance of lifestyle choices.

The Cancer Society's latest project seeks men and women between 30 and 65. The society is soliciting volunteers through its website, at Relay for Life walks and social media. It's also using its vast network of volunteers to spread the word.

The aim is to have at least 25 percent non-white participation and about 35 percent men. Volunteers so far are 19 percent nonwhite and 26 percent male.

"Participation hasn't changed as much as the general demographics have, largely due to historical mistrust of research in the African-American community and other cultural issues," Patel said.

"We've made some great strides in cancer treatment and a lot of that has come from scientific research," said Nancy Paris, president of Georgia Center for Oncology Research & Education, or CORE. "But what this study really does is to reach out to the public about how we can prevent cancer, which is ultimately where we need to go."

Tina Long, 58, now wishes she had paid more attention to the findings of the first study that looked at smoking and cancer. In 1998, Long, of Suwanee, was diagnosed with Stage IV laryngeal cancer and now needs a prosthesis device inserted in her throat to help her talk.

A long-term "pretty hard-core smoker," Long, who teaches smoking cessation classes and now works as a pet sitter, said like many teens, she thought she was invincible.

"I knew it was bad for me, but I started [smoking], hopefully, to lose weight, then I became very addicted," she said.

Taking note of the results of the first Cancer Prevention Study, she said, "is something that would have saved me, probably."

About the study

There will be an enrollment at Grady Memorial Hospital from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. June 28. For information, visit www.cancer.org/cps3 or call 1-888-604-5888. The period to join the study runs through December 2013.

2012 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)

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