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‘Sister Study ’ Looks at Genetic, Environmental Breast Cancer Links

‘Sister Study ’ Looks at Genetic, Environmental Breast Cancer Links

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, North Carolina—Researchers have begun the first
phase of a long-term, prospective epidemiological study designed to determine
the role of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors in increasing the
risk of breast cancer and several other diseases. The Sister Study is the
first long-term follow-up study specifically designed to look at hereditary
and environmental risk factors for the disease. It seeks to enroll 50,000
cancer-free women in the United States between the ages of 35 and 74 who have
a sister diagnosed with breast cancer.

"Our overall goal is to create a framework from which we, and others who
might collaborate with us, can ask questions about the role of the external
environment, which has not been studied very well in breast cancer risk,"
said co-principal investigator Dale Sandler, PhD.

Dr. Sandler is the acting chief of the Epidemiology Branch at the National
Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). The institute is funding
the project, which is expected to cost about $7 million a year. Clarice
Weinberg, PhD, chief of NIEHS’s Biostatistics Branch, is the other
co-principal investigator.

"The Sister Study is unique among cohort studies in the emphasis we have
put on external environmental exposures," Dr. Sandler said. "The current
cohort studies— the Nurses’ Health Study and others— really focus on
lifestyle. In the Sister Study, we are trying to address this other piece of
the puzzle, the environment."

Researchers began recruiting for the study in Tampa, Florida, in September
and have expanded their efforts to Phoenix, Arizona; St. Louis, Missouri; and
Providence, Rhode Island, all chosen for the initial phase of the study
because of their size and geographic, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity.

The target enrollment for the four cities is 2,000 women over 6 to 9
months. Using the experience they gain from enrolling women from the initial
four cities, the research team will refine its recruiting strategies and
launch a national enrollment effort in the summer of 2003.

Dr. Sandler and her colleagues have enlisted breast cancer advocates and
other groups to aid in enrollment. The initial recruitment effort took place
during the Tampa Bay area Race for the Cure. "We have built a list of
volunteers who are connected with different organizations throughout the
United States, who have agreed to help us recruit women," Dr. Sandler said.

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