just weeks after going to the doctor with anagging cough.
“Cancer sometimes just doesn’t make
any sense,” Smith says. “It can ravage one
family and other families just don’t see the
disease. And I wonder why.”
So do researchers.
Despite making huge strides in understanding cancer over the decades, muchis still unknown about the disease thatwill kill about 6,200 Albertans this year.Exactly what mix of behavioural, environmental and other factors can cause cancer?
Smith is hoping she can be a small partof answering that enormous question.
She has signed up to be a part of theCanadian Partnership for TomorrowProject, a massive, long-term nationalstudy exploring the causes of cancer andother chronic diseases.
The study aims to recruit and trackthe health, medical history and lifestyleof 300,000 people — 50,000 of them in Alberta. Participants have to be between 35and 69 years old and never had cancer;all information they volunteer will bestrictly confidential.
In addition to answering questionsabout everything from how many fruitsand vegetables they eat to how oftenthey work in the yard, researchersmeasure participants’ blood pressure,grip strength, height, weight, waist andhip circumference.
People taking part in the study can alsovolunteer to have blood, urine and salivasamples collected. These will be storedat -80˚C until such time, years or decadesfrom now, that researchers may want toanalyze them for nutrients, hormones andinfectious or environmental agents.
Researchers in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and the Atlanticprovinces will follow the participantsfor several decades, checking in everyfew years with a new questionnaire andkeeping an eye on their health throughelectronic medical records.
“This is a very exciting study,” says Dr.Christine Friedenreich, the acting principalinvestigator for the Tomorrow Project inAlberta. It’s the first study of its kind to
Why these studies matter
What we know about medicine and health has been, andcontinues to be, shaped by group studies like the TomorrowProject. These large, long-term studies that follow a group ofpeople over several years, even decades, have had a pivotaleffect on health care policy and prevention programs aroundthe world. Here are just a few examples:
The Framingham Heart Study (FHS) started in 1948 withan original group of 5,209 men and women between theages of 30 and 62 who lived in the town of Framingham,Massachusetts.
Since then, the study has added several new groups; oneof the original group’s children, one of their grandchildren,as well as others that represent the growing ethnic diversityof the town.
The FHS has helped identify major risk factors ofcardiovascular disease, as well as how these factors affectblood pressure, blood triglyceride and cholesterol levels, age,gender and psychosocial issues. The study is also investigating risk factors for dementia and other conditions.
The Million Women Study in the United Kingdom isexploring how lifestyle and reproductive factors affect thehealth of women aged 50 and over. researchers recruitedparticipants between 1996 and 2001 by inviting them toattend a breast screening.
While the study has a specific focus on the effects ofhormone replacement therapy, the huge sample size meansresearchers can look at a wide variety of health issues,including: diet, exercise, employment patterns, use of oralcontraceptives, childbirth, breastfeeding and how familyhistories affect a wide range of cancers, cardiovasculardisease and other conditions.
The MoST FAMouS:
The British Doctors Study, which began in 1951, was oneof the first studies that showed there was increased risk ofdeveloping a disease associated with a particular lifestyleexposure by demonstrating smoking increased the risk ofdeveloping lung cancer and other chronic diseases.
researchers wrote every registered male doctor in theUnited Kingdom to ask them to participate, and two thirds,or nearly 35,000, agreed. The doctors were sorted by age,general health and smoking habits. They were asked to fillout questionnaires in 1957, 1966, 1971, 1978, 1991 and,finally, in 2001.
Widely considered a huge success story of epidemiology,the British Doctors Study concluded that smoking decreaseslife span up to 10 years, and that more than half of all smokers die of a disease related to smoking.