Tracking study to help prevent cancer

“We’ve discovered six previously unknown genes that may increase the risk of developing breast cancer.” Bryce Hirsch, project coordinator

A mobile health study is tracking participants for 50 years to learn more about cancer and what causes it.

The Tomorrow Project team was recently in Ponoka recruiting more participants for a study of lifestyle, environmental factors and genetics. Project members also take note of body fat percentages, urine and blood samples.

Study centre coordinator Bryce Hirsch says there is also an in-depth questionnaire participants must fill out. “Basically we track our participants via questionnaires every three to five years.”

Because of the large window of study time The Tomorrow Project presents, Hirsch says some of the participants will develop cancer in their lifetime, allowing the study to compare their earlier information as well as the information of others who stayed cancer free. “You have more information to pull from,” said Hirsch.

He also believes that The Tomorrow Project is different from most cancer studies because it primarily deals with participants who begin their involvement while cancer free. “That’s the difference; most other studies come after the diagnosis.”

“We’re a preventative cancer study,” he added.

The Tomorrow Project needs 50,000 Albertans between the ages of 35 and 69 and right now it is sitting with 36,000. “We’re still actively recruiting,” said Hirsch.

Although the project’s research stage does not officially begin for another three to five years, and the study is in the recruitment phase, investigation has already begun. “We’re looking into different diets. As far as western versus vegetarian . . . we’re looking into some physical activity stuff as well,” said Hirsch.

The project has also partnered with the University of Alberta, using a group of breast cancer patients and comparing them to the study’s patients. “We’ve discovered six previously unknown genes that may increase the risk of developing breast cancer,” said Hirsch.

“More research has to happen but that’s the power of the study,” he added.

Men are being encouraged to take part, as the project has many more females then males involved. Hirsch believes this could present a disservice to men. “The thing is, we’re doing this for the future generation.”