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Relay for Life Will Be Local Site for New Cancer Study This Year

This year's Relay for Life is a little different -- the signature fundraiser for the American Cancer Society will also be a site for local residents to participate in a long-term study on the genetics of cancer.

Local Relay for Life coordinator and Peabody resident Steve Burke is a self-declared "Equal Opportunity Cancer Hater," and he along with the American Cancer Society are encouraging people who don't have the disease to participate in a cancer prevention study that will explore the genetic link and causes of cancer at this year's relay this summer.

"What we're trying to find out is if you eliminate smoking, drug abuse and environmental issues, will people still get cancer?" Burke explained. "We know if you smoke, there is a higher probablility of lung cancer. Cancer can also be caused by living in a toxic environment that hasn't been cleaned up."

"Researchers are looking for genetic markers to develop vaccines to prevent cancer from occuring or to minimize the effect," he said.

And this is a one-time opportunity for people in the Peabody area to join the study. Burke recently received approval from the School Committee to run the study during the relay, which is held each year at the high school.

A registration tent for the survey will be set up in the fieldhouse at on Friday, June 15, 6-10 p.m. The relay begins that Friday at 6 p.m. and and lasts until the next day at 11 a.m. More than 500 people are expected to walk overnight.

The study is conducted at sites across the United States based on availability of volunteers and diverse population.

Lounge chairs and refreshments will be provided for those participating in the study. ACS says: "We need a blood sample to measure things, such as hormones, nutrients, vitamins, chemicals, metals and genetic factors that may be related to your risk of developing cancer."

You can find more information from ACS on the overall study here.

The criteria to participate are as follows:

  • Men or women must be between the ages of 30 and 65.
  • Cancer-free with the exception of Melanoma (skin cancer), which doesn't spread.
  • Provide at least the last four numbers of their Social Security number in order for researchers to access a cancer database within the Department of Public Health. "Everything we can do to respect people's privacy will be done," Burke said.
  • Consent to a blood draw 36 ml, or three small tubes, from the elbow, which is comparably less than a routine physical blood draw. A Red Cross blood drive asks for 500 ml, or a pint, of blood.
  • Agree to be mailed bi-annually an updated questionnaire for the next 30 years after the study, asking for demographic information, ethnic background, income level, socioeconomic background, surgical procedures, any cancer diagnosis and medical history.
  • Donors don't have to, but can do a lap at the relay.


Combining the blood draw with filling out registration forms should take about 30 minutes. Questions such as: "What did you weigh in elementary school?" will be asked to seek a connection between nutrition and cancer.

Waist measurements will be taken as well, but all efforts will be made to do so in a non-intrusive manner. Pregnant women are welcome.

This study will continue for 20-30 years, but this June will be the only opportunity for local residents to participate. Blood will be stored in liquid nitrogen. In the 1960s, a study linking smoking to lung cancer was done (CPS-1).

That Hammond-Horn study led to the Surgeon's General warning on cigarette packs. An ongoing study, for the last 20 years, looks at the relationship between 12 different types of cancer, weight and nutrition (CPS-2).

"Those studies confirmed the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, demonstrated the link between larger waist size and increased death rates from cancer and other causes, and showed the considerable impact of air pollution on heart and lung conditions," said ACS in a release.

Ebonee Pope, CPS-3 Study Coordinator of the ACS, based out of Atlanta, Ga., added that the 1 million-plus generation involved in the CPS-2 study is getting older; since medications and the environment has changed, a new study is in store. The survey this June will focus more on genetics and DNA (CPS-3).

Funding for the study is entirely sponsored by the ACS. The goal is to have 160 donors; 75 are already registered.

"People are always asking to help fund research, but this is a way to become a part of that research, especially when everyone can't donate, because of the way the economy is," Pope said. "Over the next 20 to 30 years, the survey is expected to take less than 24 hours. If you have families and friends who have cancer, often feeling helpless, you can't take radiation or chemotherapy for them, but it's one thing you can do in addition to the love and support you give them."

The bi-annual survey, expected to take 45 minutes each time, will be mailed in a postage-paid envelope with no cost to the participant.

Usually, people so involved in the fight against cancer have had the disease themselves or had a family member affected.

"My wife and I are cancer-free, but we know survivors and those who died from cancer," said Burke, who works as a healthcare consultant with his firm Burke and Associates LLC, and volunteers to recruit donors and other volunteers.

"Most people involved in the Relay for Life are survivors, and frankly, I want to get rid of cancer. I don't want my kids to have it. It destroys families and costs families and individuals a lot of money. It's a horrific thing, and I want to do whatever I can to make sure it goes away. That's why I devote my time and money," he said.

Burke has also coordinated the logistics for the local relay for seven years. Thirteen volunteers will be alongside him working in the tents for the study. They attended a two-day training in Minnesota, which taught them how to reach out to the community.

Pope said the CPS-3 Study will look into behavioral, lifestyle, enviornmental and genetic factors by telling participants: "If you want to prevent cancer, this is what you need to do to protect yourself."

To enroll in the study, contact Steven Burke at 978-535-5990 or 508-269-3029 or by email at sburke@burkeassociatesllc.com

For more information, visit cancer.org/cps3, email cps3@cancer.org or call toll-free at 888-604-5888. For more information on the Relay for Life in Peabody visit www.relayforlife.org/peabodyma.

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