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Tracking Cancer's Links

Written by Dave Norstrand
The Californian

SALINAS, CA, August 16, 2013- A search is under way for 500 Monterey County volunteers willing to step forward and join a huge national 20- to 30-year American Cancer Society research study.
The ACS effort will probe links between cancer and the environment and cancer and genetics.
“This is an incredibly important study,” said Karen Curtis of Salinas. “People always ask me, ‘What can I do to help?’ Well, here’s a chance to do it. So our children and grandchildren don’t have to worry about cancer, I urge Monterey County residents to join.
“All people have to do is step up and give a little time to make a difference.”
A volunteer, Curtis has worked with the Celebration of Life Fashion Show for 12 years and is now serving as the chairwoman for Monterey County’s part in recruiting volunteers into the ACS study, “CPS-3,” which stands for “Cancer Prevention Study-3.”
Cancer, in all its insidious forms, maintains a fearsome grip on people from children to adults to the aged. Curtis herself is a longtime cancer survivor. She last had breast cancer 23 years ago and melanoma 16 years ago.
“It’s a scary diagnosis,” she said. “You just put your head down and get through it. It helps to have the support of family, friends and the American Cancer Society, too.”
Volunteers for the study, men or women, must be between ages 30 and 65. They must never have been diagnosed with cancer. Enrollment in the study takes a mere 25 minutes. At enrollment, a person signs a consent form. They complete a brief survey. A waist measurement is taken.
Then a certified phlebotomist draws a small blood sample. (For more, go to The blood is used to measure a variety of markers, such as hormones, nutrients, vitamins, chemicals, metals and genetic factors that may be related to a person’s risk of cancer.
“The goal of CPS-3 is to better understand the factors (lifestyle, environmental, genetic) that cause or prevent cancer and, ultimately, to help eliminate cancer as a major health concern for future generations,” an ACS brochure says.
Nationally, 300,000 participants are being sought. Locally, Monterey County’s number should be at 500, Curtis said. There is a certain urgency, she said. More people need to join the research study, because local numbers are lagging, she said. CPS-3 must also reflect a diverse population because genetic and lifestyle risk factors for cancer can differ by race and ethnicity.
“This study is an opportunity for the community to be actively engaged in cancer research,” said Angie Carrillo, corporate communications director of the California Division of the American Cancer Society, Inc. “Genetic and the environment. What causes cancer and what doesn’t.”
CPS-3 will help provide insights into the big questions.
Every few years, the ACS will contact participants for follow-up surveys. The survey takes no more than 45 minutes to complete.
“Confidentiality is always an absolute,” Curtis said.
CPS-3 is actually the latest of several such large-scale studies reaching back into the 1950s. One study, for example, helped establish cigarette smoking, not as a soothingly sophisticated activity as depicted on, say, TV’s “Mad Men,” but as a cause of death from lung cancer and heart disease.
Suddenly, the squared-jawed Marlboro Man lighting up a cigarette on those roadside posters didn’t look so romantic.
The studies have had many other sweeping impacts on public health. Among those:
• They confirmed the relationship of second-hand smoke with lung cancer and heart disease, helping motivate smoke-free laws and warning labels on cigarette packages. As one result of the new awareness brought on by the studies, smoking rates in men have dropped from 50 percent in the 1950s to 23 percent today.
• They found that low tar/nicotine cigarettes don’t reduce lung cancer risk.
• They provided a landmark paper linking obesity to increased death rates from at least 10 cancer sites, including colon and post-menopausal breast cancer.
• The studies discovered the link between aspirin use and a lower risk of colon cancer.
• They provided the first U.S. epidemiological study showing that sitting for prolonged periods shortens longevity.
Several hospitals have helped recruitment by spreading the word about the study among their employees. Curtis, for example, asked Kendra Howell, executive director of Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital Foundation, to help get the word out on the study. Howell is not only doing that, she volunteered to be part of the study.
Howell is qualified. She’s 51, within the study’s age range, and she has never had cancer.
“In this day and age, we’re making great medical and technical strides,” she said. “This study will help us down the road with diagnosis and care. I’m thrilled to be part of it.”

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