The American Cancer Society is recruiting Tennesseans for a long-term study that has the potential to change the face of cancer for future generations.

The organization hopes to have at least 1,500 people from Tennessee sign up for Prevention Study-3, or CPS-3, said Ryan Palmer, vice president for strategic services for the society.

Candidates should be between the ages of 30 and 65, never diagnosed with cancer and willing to commit 30 years to the study.
'Seems a lot more daunting than it is'

“Thirty years seems a lot more daunting than it is,” said Alpa V. Patel, principal investigator of CPS-3.

“The active involvement of a study participant is minimal. They’ll complete a survey every two or three years at home after completing the initial enrollment.”

The goal of CPS-3 is to help researchers better understand the lifestyle, environmental and genetic factors that cause or prevent cancer.

“Many individuals diagnosed with cancer struggle to answer the question, ‘What caused my cancer?’ In many cases, we don’t know the answer,” Patel said.

“CPS-3 will help us better understand what factors cause cancer, and once we know that, we can be better equipped to prevent cancer.”

The American Cancer Society has done two previous prevention studies, not surprisingly named CPS-1 and CPS-2. The second study, which began in 1982, is still ongoing; researchers have no plans to conclude it anytime soon, said Patel, who is a researcher for CPS-2 in addition to overseeing the new study.

Since the first study began in 1959, the Cancer Society has released more than 600 publications from both studies.

A significant finding in the first study was the link between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer. The second study produced a link between obesity and certain types of cancer.
Multiple focus areas

The first chance to enroll for the latest study in Nashville was at Mt. Zion Baptist Church’s Relay for Life Event on Friday.

In the first half-hour, about 50 people had completed the enrollment process, which included taking a survey, giving a blood sample and having their waists measured, the Cancer Society’s Palmer said.

“We’ve had over 425 people from Mt. Zion already commit to the study, so we’re well on our way to reaching 1,500,” said Palmer, who is responsible for gathering a total of 5,000 participants in Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee by December.

Nationwide, the prevention study will enroll almost half a million people.

“We have about 100,000 already recruited, with an ultimate goal of at least 300,000,” said Patel, who has been with the Atlanta-based American Cancer Society for 14 years.

Tennessee is one of 32 states included in the study. Participants also will be sought in Puerto Rico.

“The state population of Tennessee is about 6.3 million as of our last census, making it the 17th-most-populous state,” Patel said. “The states in which we are enrolling cover 94 percent of the U.S. population.”

Unlike in the first two studies, “there isn’t really an overall focus area in study three,” Patel said. “The beauty of this type of study is that you’re able to have multiple focus areas.”

There are eight researchers on the project.

“One of the researchers is interested in the genetic determinance of cancer, another is interested in medications and how they may or may not impact cancer risk, and another is interested in nutrition,” Patel said.

“This is all about identifying new and emerging cancer risks.”
'Doing this for her'

It was the proactive approach to the research that prompted Wilbur Williams, 55, of East Nashville to sign up for the study Friday.

Williams, a two-year member of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, has smoked for about 34 years but is trying to quit. His father, also a smoker, died of lung cancer in 2000 at 71 years old.

“We were very close,” Williams said. “Having that happen and then having my doctor tell me four months ago that he can’t give me a clean bill of health because I smoke cigarettes is what motivates me.”

Since that doctor’s visit, Williams has reduced the amount he smokes from a pack a day to a pack every other day. He is also focusing on exercising and drinking more water.

“It concerns me that I smoke cigarettes because I know it’s very harmful, but I’m working on it,” he said.

Deaths in the family also inspired East Nashville residents and Mt. Zion members Bobbie Achelles and Barbara McEwen, both 50, to sign up for the study.

Achelles’ father died of colon cancer in the early 1980s. Her sister, Patricia McField, 63, of Oregon, is a breast cancer survivor.

“I’m doing this for her,” Achelles said of her sister. “She was the one who always ate healthy her whole life and ended up with cancer, but she beat it.

“There is hope, and the more we know, the more we can fight it.”

McEwen’s grandfather died of prostate cancer about 20 years ago at age 67, she said.

“We didn’t even realize he had cancer until the end because he didn’t tell anyone,” she said. “But hewas happy because he didn’t want to go through chemo. Other than him, we’ve been blessed in my family because everyone is healthy.

“I have friends who have cancer, though. If I can give a little blood and fill out some paperwork to help find a cure, I’ll do it.”

In the past year, McEwen has taken one extra step for researchers.

“I’ve lost 60 pounds by cutting out fried food and exercising,” she said. “I want to live a long life, but I want that life to be a healthy one. I want to be able to go and go and go like the Energizer bunny.”

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