Researchers embark on decades-long cancer study
Send in your toenails: Atlantic PATH (Partnership for Tomorrow’s Health) is trying to cure cancer.
The research study is part of a huge nationwide undertaking within the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project, which hopes to track 200,000 Canadians for 30 years, in order to better understand what causes cancer.
As the study’s principal investigator, Dr. Louise Parker says, it’s the “biggest and most ambitious cancer project ever undertaken in Canada, by a long way.”
Atlantic PATH is the Atlantic Canadian portion of the study, and is in the process of recruiting 30,000 participants to add to their database. They will follow them for three decades, tracking their health records, collecting detailed information about where they live and work, looking at blood samples, and yes, analyzing their toenails.
Tony Loring is part of the study, and says its purpose is to better understand the “risk factors” that lead to cancer.
“We want to find out who is getting cancer, who isn’t, and why?” he said.
By following so many people, for so long, researchers hope to get a the most accurate idea of the factors affecting average Canadian’s health.
That is why they are tracking so many participants; as Loring says, “we need a wide variety of people to get meaningful results.”
Those results are especially important in Atlantic Canada, where cancer rates are higher than anywhere else in the country.
Loring says cancer is too complicated to know exactly why this is the case, but there are “clearly there’s some risk factors at work.” He says that certain activities linked to cancer, like smoking, obesity and an inactive lifestyle, are all higher in Atlantic Canada than in the rest of the country.
Atlantic Canadians also drink a lot more well-water, something researchers at the study think might be related to high cancer rates.
It is those kinds of questions researchers at Atlantic PATH hope to answer. In an interview on their website, Dr. Parker says the size and the scope of the study are what will allow them to do that. With the mountains of data they collect, researchers will be able to create comprehensive profiles of participant’s home and work environments, family history and general lifestyles.
Thirty years down the road, they’ll be able to compare the profiles of those who got cancer, and look for similarities. Loring says there might be things we are doing today, that we will look back at and say, “hey, that was crazy.”
When researchers better understand exactly what causes cancer, Loring says they will be able to use that information to help shape public policy, and keep Canadians healthier.
As Dr. Parker says, every Canadian will at some point experience directly or indirectly a chronic disease.
“The information from Atlantic PATH will be directly relevant to them, and to their desire that their children, and their children’s children, experience the best possible health trajectory through life.”
For the moment, however, Atlantic PATH is still trying to recruit the last few people to meet their goal of 30,000. They are very close, already above 28,000, but as Loring says, “it’s like Weight Watchers, the last ten pounds are the hardest to lose.”
For more information, or to participate in the study, visit www.atlanticpath.ca