Massive American Cancer Study looking for participants in Aurora

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AURORA | With merely a needle prick and paperwork, Aurora residents can help researchers find a cure for cancer, and also a way to prevent it.

Staffers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus are encouraging people statewide to participate in the American Cancer Society’s third major cancer prevention study. The goal of the study is to find a link between cancer and genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors.

Dr. Tim Byers is the associate dean for Public Health Practice at the Colorado School of Public Health. Byers, who is also the American Cancer Society's president-elect, is helping enroll Aurora residents in a research study with the goal of finding a link between cancer and genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors.  (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)
Dr. Tim Byers is the associate dean for Public Health Practice at the Colorado School of Public Health. Byers, who is also the American Cancer Society’s president-elect, is helping enroll Aurora residents in a research study with the goal of finding a link between cancer and genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

“This is an opportunity to really make an important contribution in our understanding of how to prevent cancer,” said Dr. Tim Byers, associate dean for Public Health Practice at the Colorado School of Public Health.

People ages 30 to 65 years old who have never been diagnosed with cancer can participate in the study by visiting an enrollment site, donating a blood sample there and answering a few survey questions.

There are four sites in Aurora where people can enroll.

Survey questions will ask people about their occupation, where they live, and their lifestyle, eating and exercise habits.

“We get them to describe themselves through questionnaires, and then we look at those characteristics — their behaviors, and genetics, and we later determine the differences between people who get cancer and people who don’t have cancer,” said Byers, who is also the American Cancer Society’s president-elect.

The American Cancer Society has already enrolled about 260,000 people nationwide over five years. Once they hit the 300,000 mark by the end of the year, researchers can officially launch the study.

The first two studies conducted by the American Cancer Society shed light on specific factors that cause cancer. In the 1960s, thousands of people participated in Cancer Prevention Study-1, which solidified the link between cancer and smoking.

“That study really nailed down the relationship between tobacco use and many different cancers,” Byers said. “It was very influential.”

Cancer Prevention Study-2, conducted in the 1980s, helped doctors understand the link between cancer and nutritional factors.

“From that study, we learned the importance of nutritional factors and especially obesity, which causes cancer,” Byers said.

The third study will try to determine how behavioral, environmental and genetic factors are related to all types of cancers including breast, prostate and colon.

It’s too early to say what the findings will be, but Byers is hopeful the findings will be as ground-breaking as those in the first two studies.

“The best way to predict the future is to look at the past, and when we look at the past two cancer prevention studies, both of them have been very important,” Byers said. “I’m confident that this one is going to open up some new doors and new understanding.”

By 2019, researchers will start to analyze the questionnaires and frozen blood samples of people in the study who get cancer.

“Our researchers will start to look at trends,” said Shane Ferraro, a Denver-based spokesman for the American Cancer Society’s Great West Division.

Colorado residents have been quick to sign up for the study. At a recruiting event last November, 1,400 Denver-area residents enrolled in the study. Once people find out how they can personally help researchers find a cure for cancer, they’re usually open to participating, Ferraro said.

“If you could do any one thing to help at least one person not hear the words, ‘You have cancer,’ would you do that? We’ve found that many people say, ‘Absolutely,’” Ferraro said.

Enrollment usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes, and it’s free.

“In the time it takes to cook a dinner, people are enrolled and helping us find a way to cure cancer in the future,” he said.

Cancer is the second-most common cause of death in the United States, accounting for nearly one in every four deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. About 1.7 million new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed this year, according to the American Cancer Society. This year, about 580,350 people are expected to die of cancer, according to the data. That equals about 1,600 people a day.

Reach reporter Sara Castellanos at 720-449-9036 or [email protected]