PEABODY — The American Cancer Society is looking for a couple hundred North Shore residents willing to take part in a milestone study that aims to find out how genetics and cancer are linked.
"We have a lot of knowledge of the environmental causes of cancer and the lifestyle causes of cancer, but our knowledge of the genetic causes is not quite as great," said Steve Burke, a health care consultant, longtime volunteer with Peabody's Relay For Life fundraiser and local coordinator for the national study.
The initial data collection will take place at the Peabody Relay for Life, held at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School on June 15.
The American Cancer Society's plan is ambitious. The organization, which is funding 100 percent of the study, is aiming to get between 300,000 and 500,000 participants nationwide. Qualifying participants will have their blood drawn, a few measurements taken, and will be asked to fill out a confidential questionnaire about basic personal and family background information. Their blood will then be sent to a lab, where it will be frozen and preserved for years until it is needed for research.
Each of the thousands of participants will be sent questionnaires every other year to update researchers on their health, whether they have cancer and other information. The ultimate goal is to identify genetic markers that are common among people who are diagnosed with specific types of cancer.
"The researchers are focused on the DNA aspects of the blood. They are not testing for diseases and things like that," Burke said. "They want to know: Is it possible to predict (through genetics) whether or not someone will come down with cancer? If we eliminate all the other variables, will people still come down with cancer? My hypothesis is yes, but we don't know why."
The study will obviously take place over decades, and the findings won't be known for years. Researchers hope the study may result in vaccines, or at least a better idea of how to predict and perhaps prevent and treat specific types of cancer.
As the name of the study — Cancer Prevention Study 3 — would suggest, this is the third major long-term study the American Cancer Society has undertaken. The previous studies involved smoking and lung cancer, and the correlation between nutrition and cancer, Burke said.
To participate in CPS-3, volunteers need to be between the ages of 30 and 65, be cancer free and be willing and able to fill out a brief questionnaire every other year.
Participants will be sent annual newsletters with highlights of study results, and results will also be published in scientific journals, and on the American Cancer Society website.
"In order for this thing to work, we need committed volunteers, because it is a commitment," Burke said. "The people who enroll will not see any immediate benefit from their participation in the study, but down the road their children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and society will see a benefit from it."
The cancer society is looking for about 160 participants from the North Shore. If you are interested or would like more information, contact Steve Burke at 978-535-5990, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.