Sisters of women with breast cancer are known to be at greater risk of breast cancer up to twice the risk of other women. By following these sisters for ten years, the researchers hope to find clues as to why:
Is it genes they shared? A common diet? Early menstruation? A household or environmental chemical? A gene-environment interaction? By means of simple tests and questionnaires, the researchers from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a part of the federal National Institutes of Health will look at these and other factors.
The volunteers themselves may gain no medical benefit from the research but, as one of the women involved has said, “Our daughters may.”
The first phase of recruiting will focus on the Tampa area where recruiters will sign up potential volunteers at the Survivors Tent during the Sept. 21 Race for the Cure at Straub Park, in adjacent St. Petersburg. Recruitment will continue following the race, taking advantage of volunteers who have agreed to help spread the word about the study, the internet, and other media.
A similar effort will kick off recruitment in Phoenix, Ariz., at its Oct. 13 Race for the Cure, then St. Louis, Mo., and Providence, R.I. selected for their size and geographic, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. The initial recruiting goal for the four cities together is 2,000 participants over the next six to nine months.
Recruiting strategies will be fine-tuned in these cities before the study goes national next year.
Sister Study representatives will carry out their first on-site recruiting of Tampa-area women Sept. 21 during the local Race for the Cure at Straub Park, in adjacent St. Petersburg. The Suncoast affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, which sponsors Race for the Cure events across the nation to raise money to fight breast cancer, is providing space at the big Tampa event.
Dale Sandler, Ph.D., acting chief of the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch, and Clarice Weinberg, Ph.D., chief of the NIEHS Biostatistics Branch, are the principal investigators in this study. Dr. Sandler said, "Our recruiting plan includes working with breast cancer advocacy and support groups to spread the word about the Sister Study and our need for 50,000 women participants. Breast cancer advocates, in fact, will be the backbone of the study.
"We're asking them to register the Sister Study with volunteer centers, service clubs like Rotary and Junior League, public libraries, city search websites, and all breast cancer directories or hotlines."
"First-degree relatives, especially sisters, have up to two times the risk of developing breast cancer as the average woman," Sandler said.
She said they are also likely to be within the same age range and to have been exposed to many of the same environmental factors during early childhood and even later in life. They also share many of the same genes, including those that determine the way their bodies handle carcinogens or repairs DNA.
They also, Sandler said, share a common concern over the disease that makes them more likely to want to participate in the study and stay in the study for the ten or more years that it may take to get results.
Besides collecting biological and environmental samples blood, urine, toenail clippings and household dust from participants at the outset, Sister Study researchers will use questionnaires to gather a multitude of data about health histories, environmental exposures and lifestyles. This comprehensive approach will allow the researchers to study new ideas regarding breast cancer while taking into account or reassessing what is already known.
Beyond the initial samples and questionnaires, participants will answer a shorter questionnaire each year for the next 10 or so years. Because most diseases like breast cancer develop slowly over a long period of time, researchers want to collect information from women who are healthy today and follow them over time to learn who stays healthy and who doesn't.
To volunteer or learn more about the Sister Study, go to the website www.sisterstudy.org or call toll free 1-877-4SISTER (1-877-474-7837).