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updated: 6/3/2013 9:57 AM

Cancer studies provide new hope for survivors

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  • Sisters Kathleen Cecil, left, and Annie Gruber, with brother Eugene Powers behind, celebrate at the closing ceremonies of the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in June 2009. Family members formed team Team KA-POW and have helped raise more than $650,000 in eight years for the Avon Walk. Kathleen lost her battle with breast cancer last spring, and Annie is still fighting the disease.

    Sisters Kathleen Cecil, left, and Annie Gruber, with brother Eugene Powers behind, celebrate at the closing ceremonies of the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in June 2009. Family members formed team Team KA-POW and have helped raise more than $650,000 in eight years for the Avon Walk. Kathleen lost her battle with breast cancer last spring, and Annie is still fighting the disease.
    Courtesy of Debbie Quinn

  • Dr. Alpa Patel

    Dr. Alpa Patel

  • Marc Hurlbert

    Marc Hurlbert

By Janice Youngwith
Daily Herald Correspondent

As local cancer survivors, friends and family celebrate each day of life, they point to ongoing cancer prevention research, which they hope will lead to a cancer-free tomorrow.

Fifty years ago, research funded by the American Cancer Society showed the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. Discovering that link took thousands of study participants from across the country and an intensive organizational effort involving research scientists and volunteers.

It's the promise of lifesaving discovery and new prevention findings that led suburban resident Sandy Lake, 54, to enroll recently as a participant in the American Cancer Society's next landmark Cancer Prevention Study 3.

"Researchers will take a close look at lifestyle, environmental issues and genetic factors, which may cause or prevent cancer and to ultimately eliminate cancer as a major health problem for this and future generations," said Lake, whose family history includes a frightening link to lung cancer -- two of her sisters succumbed to the disease in their late 50s.

"Anything I can do to help find answers is important," said Lake, a registered associate who learned of the CPS-3 study from a recent newspaper article.

In addition to the one-time, in-person visit to read and sign a consent form, Lake and others enrolling in this long-term lifestyle study, completed blood work and had waist measurements taken at one of several local hospitals participating in the enrollment efforts.

"Participants also complete a more detailed survey at home and continue to receive periodic follow-up surveys in the future that researchers say will help them pinpoint clues to cancer's causes," Lake said.

The American Cancer Society first began conducting long-term prospective follow-up studies in the 1950s with results playing a major role in understanding cancer prevention.

"These studies and their findings have significantly contributed to tobacco-related research and to the understanding of obesity, diet, physical activity, hormone use, air pollution and various other exposures in relation to cancer and other diseases," said Dr. Alpa Patel, a cancer epidemiologist and American Cancer Society principal investigator who is spearheading the large nationwide study aimed at better understanding lifestyle, genetic and environmental causes of cancer.

Over the years, Patel's research has focused on the role of physical activity in cancer prevention and obesity as a risk factor for cancer.

"Everyone has a personal link to cancer," said Patel, who recalls her grandfather's battle with brain cancer when she was just 14. "He was physically fit, in training to compete in a triathlon and the picture of good health when diagnosed. His battle solidified my commitment to find a way to prevent cancer."

The researcher says many individuals with cancer struggle to find answers to what caused their disease and in many cases come up empty-handed.

"CPS-3 will help us better understand what factors cause cancer, and once we know that, we will be better equipped to prevent cancer," she said, noting that the study offers researchers the best hope of identifying new and emerging cancer risks.

Patel said over the years cancer studies have:

• Established the link between smoking and lung cancer.

• Shown the significant impact of being overweight or obese on risk for cancer occurrence or death.

• Demonstrated the impact of hormones, physical activity, diet, various medications and vitamins on cancer risk.

• Shown the impact of air pollution on heart and lung conditions and motivated the Environmental Protection Agency to propose more stringent limits on particulate air pollution.

• Shown the link between aspirin use and reduced colon cancer risk.

• Demonstrated a link between postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy and various gynecologic cancers like breast and ovarian cancer.

• Supported a link between diabetes and cancers of the pancreas and colon.

• Contributed to understanding how physical activity can lower the risk for various cancers including breast, colon, and aggressive prostate cancer.

"I love my job, but would love nothing better that to find a way to prevent cancer and be put out of the job," said Patel, who notes that she is especially interested in the public health benefits of being physically active and limiting time spent sitting.

CPS-3 enrollment takes place at select suburban hospitals through the end of the year.

With an ultimate goal of enrolling 300,000 adults from various racial and ethnic backgrounds across the country, study participation is open to anyone ages 30 to 65 with no personal cancer history. Enrollment closes at the end of 2013 with participants in the long-term study being followed for at least 20 years.

Local enrollment partners in Lake County and the North suburbs will offer special enrollment appointment dates at locations June 18-28 including:

Lake County:

• Northwestern Grayslake Outpatient Center

• Vista Lindenhurst Medical Offices

• Rosalind Franklin University

• Advocate Condell Medical Center

• Vista Medical Center East

• Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital

• NorthShore Highland Park Hospital

North suburbs:

• NorthShore Skokie Hospital

• St. Francis Hospital

• NorthShore Evanston Hospital

• Cancer Wellness Center

• NorthShore Glenbrook Hospital

West suburbs:

• Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital

• Tallgrass Corporate Center Adventist Midwest

• Adventist Hinsdale

• Adventist Bolingbrook Hospital

• Wellness House

• Adventist GlenOaks Hospital

• MacNeal Hospital

To RSVP or for more information on contact Alicia Will, (847) 317-0209 or email For study information, visit online at or call (800) 604-5888.

Marc Hurlbert, executive director of the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade who serves as executive director of global breast cancer programs for the Avon Foundation for Women, couldn't agree more when it comes to the need for prevention research.

"It's very hard to take preventive measures when we don't know exactly what is causing the disease," said Hurlbert, who notes that focusing on prevention is going to change the face of cancer. "We're not looking to find a specific cure. We're looking to prevent cancer in the first place."

Hurlbert, whose Avon Breast Cancer Crusade has programs in more than 55 countries and provides more than $50 million to the breast cancer cause annually, points to two additional important studies, which promise great hope for women facing breast cancer.

One study, known as the Health of Women, will track hundreds of thousands of women over time to learn what causes breast cancer and how to prevent it, and examine breast cancer survivorship to learn how women are beating the odds.

The Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation is conducting the first-time international study collecting data entirely online in collaboration with Dr. Leslie Bernstein from the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Hurlbert also points to a special initiative recruiting 1 million healthy women of every age and ethnicity, including breast cancer survivors and women at high risk for the disease, to participate in research to "eradicate breast cancer once and for all."

"Finding the cause for breast cancer or any type of cancer is a very complex process and can take up to two decades to track trends over time," said Hurlbert, who reports the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade has raised nearly $700 million for research and advancing access to care since launching in 1992.

"It's an exciting time to help make a difference in the battle against cancer," said suburban resident Debbie Quinn, a legal secretary whose sisters, Kathleen and Annie, were diagnosed with breast cancer just one year apart in 2001 and 2002.

Eldest sister, Kathleen, was 40 and the mother of two, at the time of her diagnosis, and following treatment was cancer-free until 2005 when her breast cancer recurred with a vengeance, spreading to her bones. When the cancer spread to her brain, doctors scheduled surgery to remove two tumors and followed up with radiation treatment. Kathleen lost her battle with breast cancer last spring.

Younger sister, Annie, was only 30 when she was diagnosed and believed she had beaten the disease until December 2005 when it recurred. Treatment included a radical mastectomy and a year's worth of chemotherapy.

"We need to find the next available medicine, but finding a way to prevent this disease is even more vital," said Quinn, who has four sisters and one brother, and has helped raise more than $650,000 in her eight years of participation in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer Chicago, an annual fundraising event for research.

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