Cancer-free Palo Altans sought for decades-long study | June 28, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 28, 2013

Cancer-free Palo Altans sought for decades-long study

American Cancer Society research to look for genetic, lifestyle causes

by Sue Dremann

The American Cancer Society is seeking Palo Alto residents and others from San Mateo and Santa Clara counties for a nationwide study on environmental, genetic and lifestyle links to cancer.

The Cancer Prevention Study-3 will track 300,000 people in the U.S. and Puerto Rico for the next 20 to 30 years. It is the Cancer Society's third large national study. The first examined the link between lung cancer and tobacco use, and the second studied the role of diet and lack of exercise in causing cancer.

The Cancer Society needs 1,225 volunteers from Santa Clara County and 500 from San Mateo County who are ages 30 to 65, from various racial and ethnic backgrounds and who have never had cancer, excluding basal- or squamous-cell skin cancers. The goal is to have minorities account for at least 25 percent of the participants, said Angie Carrillo, corporate communications director of the American Cancer Society's California division.

Participants will be asked for a blood sample, to provide a waist circumference measurement and must be willing to complete periodic follow-up surveys at home for the next two to three decades.

Study participants will be able to enroll at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, where a certified phlebotomist will take the blood samples.

"It's a highly worthwhile commitment," said Cynthia Greaves, the medical foundation's manager of public affairs. "The value is extraordinary. This study could delve into the progression of cancer through genetics, nutrition, hormones and other factors that can be measured through a blood sample."

American Cancer Society research has made significant contributions toward identifying cancer causes, Greaves said.

Its first study, known as the Hammond-Horn study, took place between 1952 and 1955 and included 188,000 men. The study clearly demonstrated the link between tobacco and lung cancer, she said.

The Cancer Society's first Cancer Prevention Study extended from 1959 to 1972 and involved approximately 1 million men and women, looking at what they were exposed to, including tobacco. The second study has been ongoing since 1982 and is following 1.2 million people to determine causes of death and examine environmental factors and lifestyle. About 185,000 participants from the same research group are also participating in a related study, which began in 1992, of how diet affects cancer risk.

According to the Cancer Society, the previous studies have demonstrated: a link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer; the significant effects of being overweight or obese on cancer occurrence and death; the effects of hormones, physical activity, diet and some medications and vitamins on cancer risk; the link between air pollution and cardiopulmonary conditions, which motivated the Environmental Protection Agency to propose more stringent limits on particulate air pollution; the use of aspirin and reduced risk of colon cancer; the link between postmenopausal hormone-replacement therapy and various gynecological cancers, such as breast and ovarian cancer; the link between diabetes and pancreatic and colon cancers; and the link between physical activity and lower risk of cancers such as breast, colon and aggressive prostate cancer.

Palo Alto resident Susie Brain, a breast cancer survivor and Cancer Society volunteer, said her husband plans to participate. A volunteer research advocate at Stanford Hospital's Cancer Center, Brain helps review clinical trials.

"One issue we always have is that we don't have enough people for studies. You can learn a lot from a big prospective study like this," she said.

"Unfortunately, so many people are impacted by cancer or they know someone with cancer," she said. If people feel they can do a little bit, they will feel they can do something about it, she added.

Volunteers for the new study can make an appointment for enrollment and also find information, including enrollment locations, at

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at