Volunteers sought for American Cancer Society study

| Sunday, May 27, 2012, 6:30 p.m.

The American Cancer Society wants you.

It wants to take your blood, to be exact.

The nonprofit organization is recruiting volunteers in Pittsburgh to join about 300,000 people nationwide in providing blood samples for what advocates hope will be the next big step in cancer prevention. West Penn Allegheny Health System, the society's local partner, is sponsoring public enrollment at five of its locations from June 19-23, with the goal of enrolling 700 volunteers in its cancer study.

People ages 30 to 65 who have never been diagnosed with cancer can sign up during the half-hour sessions in which they give a blood sample, get their waist measured and fill out a survey. Researchers will store the blood for 20 to 30 years in order to study the samples of volunteers who get cancer and pinpoint genetic factors and other links to cancer risk.

"Everybody needs to realize that there's an awful lot we don't know about how and why people develop cancer. There's information we can only get by doing these large, prospective studies," said Dr. Jane Raymond, a medical oncologist who is leading West Penn Allegheny's recruitment efforts. "I would just urge everybody to think about the next generation and the generation after that, and if you're eligible, come on in."

The society has been enrolling local volunteers at its community fundraisers, including 120 at its Relay for Life in New Castle May 19 and 20, said Patti Patterson, a regional health initiatives director with the society. A similar event is planned in Mt. Lebanon on June 9, she said.

The group will send the data and blood samples to researchers in Atlanta, she said. Volunteers will be asked to fill out half-hour-long questionnaires every two to three years to keep up-to-date on lifestyle changes.

This is the society's third prevention study. It needs a new generation of young volunteers. It's also trying to do a better job of gathering information early, Raymond and Patterson said. Science and lifestyles change so quickly that researchers may not even know the right questions to ask right now, Patterson said. Having all that data and pre-cancer blood samples will help them make better connections later.

The blood samples have been a hangup for several prospective volunteers, said Marcia Semper of Adams, a local enrollment co-chair. But one needle stick and periodic questionnaires are a small commitment compared with how consuming cancer is for its patients, she said. Three of her closest friends were diagnosed with cancer from 2009 to 2010.

Cy Clark, 51, of Verona, known for dressing as Hollywood Hulk Hogan when he sits behind the bench at Pittsburgh Penguins games, wants people to sign up so others can avoid the fight he's been through, he said. Clark has overcome two bouts with cancer: throat cancer and lung cancer. The treatment involves constant poking and prodding, and radiation burns so bad that it often hurts to eat, he said.

"Getting stuck with a needle one time is a walk in the park compared to all the needles I've been stuck with over the past year," Clark said. "All (volunteers) have to do with that one needle is think about all the good it can do for so many others."

Signing up

For details about a long-term American Cancer Society study, visit www.cancer.org or call 1-888-604-5888.Enrollment dates and locations for the Cancer Prevention Study-3 are: June 19: 3 to 6:30 p.m. at West Penn Allegheny Outpatient Care Center, Peters. June 20: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Allegheny General Hospital, North Side. June 21: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at West Penn Hospital, Bloomfield. June 22: 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Forbes Regional Hospital, Monroeville. June 23: 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Destination Wellness at Pittsburgh Mills Mall, Frazer.

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