Study hunting cancer’s causes

Cancer will affect half of us and kill one in four.

Tomorrow Project participant Fiona Cowie has blood samples taken by medical lab assistant Jennifer Mate at the Red Deer Lodge Tuesday.

Cancer will affect half of us and kill one in four.

In Alberta Health Services Central Zone, nearly 2,000 people were diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and 846 died from the disease.

Those kinds of sobering statistics are behind a major study designed to learn more about the causes of cancer, called the Tomorrow Project.

The goal by 2013 is to enrol 50,000 Albertans aged 35 to 69 who have never had cancer. Since the project began in 2001, just over half that number has been reached so a big push is on.

As part of that effort, a temporary study centre was set up in the Red Deer Lodge on Tuesday. By the end of the week, 180 Central Albertans will be asked questions about their health and lifestyle, have basic measurements taken, and provide small amounts of urine and blood or saliva.

“It’s a preventive cancer research study,” said Laura Cameron, a Tomorrow Project research assistant. “So what we’re doing is we’re trying to look at what causes cancer. We’re trying to look at the lifestyle, genetic and environmental factors, and why some people get cancer and some don’t.”

The confidential information gathered will go into a database to be used by researchers. In 2008, the Alberta effort became part of the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project, which will pull together information on 300,000 Canadians.

The information gathered may also support research into other conditions.

Red Deer’s Fiona Cowie said she decided to participate because she has rheumatoid arthritis and her 10-year-old son has Type 1 diabetes.

“There are immune issues in our family. So I thought the more that I can give input to a huge study, the better it could be for future generations,” said Cowie.

Getting information on tens of thousands of Canadians could go a long way to finding the triggers and cures for chronic disease and immune system-related illnesses, she said.

Kim Gramlich, of Caroline, also donated his time.

“It’s an easy way to give something back at no cost,” said Gramlich, who has already completed a couple of questionnaires as part of the study.

“If it helps anybody in the future, it’s perfect. It’s not a whole bunch of time out of your life, so it’s not a big deal.”

Cameron said those who come in will be given a printout of their statistics and see how they stack up against healthy indicators. The study intends to keep track of participants until they are 85 years old.

Those who participate are kept up to date each year on the latest developments in cancer research.

The Red Deer study centre was a big success and was fully booked, although cancellation spots may be available by appointment only this week.

Another visit is planned to Red Deer in coming months, said Cameron, who is part of a mobile team that travels throughout Alberta.

Other partners in the study include Alberta Health Services, Alberta Innovates-Health Solutions, Alberta Cancer Foundation and the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.

For information or to book an appointment, go to or call toll-free 1-877-919-9292.

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