Province to be part of major cancer study

Deana Stokes Sullivan
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David Thompson, Atlantic PATH director of operations, is shown in this file photo making a presentation in April to the New Glasgow Rotary Club in Nova Scotia about a new national cancer study. Thompson was in St. John's this past week laying the initial ground work for the research in Newfoundland and Labrador. Photo by Amy Reusch

A major recruitment campaign is underway in Newfoundland for participation in what's said to be the largest national cancer research study of its kind, and one of the largest in the world.

David Thompson, director of operations with the Atlantic Partnership for Tomorrow's Health (Atlantic PATH), a regional component of the national initiative, was in St. John's last week to lay the groundwork.

The national study, known as Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project, has already received a $42-million commitment from the federal government and is expected to involve 300,000 participants across Canada, including 30,000 in the Atlantic provinces and 6,600 in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Atlantic PATH is based in Nova Scotia, where the principal investigator is Dr. Louise Parker, a professor of pediatrics and medicine at Dalhousie University; she holds the Canadian Cancer Society, Nova Scotia division, chair in population cancer research.

Thompson said the study will look at genetics, lifestyle and environment factors to examine why some people get cancer and others don't, as well as possible ways to prevent cancer and, perhaps, even lead to better screening methods.

In the Atlantic region, he said, this is particularly important, considering cancer is estimated to affect one in every three people, a rate higher than other parts of the country.

In 2010, Thompson noted, 1,420 people were estimated to have died from cancer in Newfoundland and Labrador alone.

He said recruitment efforts for the study will be done directly, through emails or through organizations or workplaces, with participants asked to fill out an online or paper questionnaire at the base level.

In St. John's, Thompson said, "We've already hired someone who will be a key recruiting person on the ground."

The organizers are also looking to recruit champions who will volunteer to help recruit participants within their organizations or workplaces.

Those who participate in the study will be given a self-assessment kit, called a PATH Pack. It contains information about the study, a consent form, questionnaires about lifestyle, environment and family health history, a tape measure to take simple body measurements such as height and waist size and nail clippers to provide a toenail sample. A small lancet and test paper for an optional blood spot sample will be included in some PATH Packs.

Thompson said a full assessment centre is expected to be set up in St. John's by mid-February, where participants can complete questionnaires and PATH Pack assessments, as well as provide a broader range of biological samples through blood, urine and saliva tests, as well as undergo physical tests to determine things like grip strength, distribution of body fat, blood pressure, weight and other measurements.

The initial recruitment and assessment phase is expected to continue until March next year, with what Thompson calls a "top-up phase" from March 2012 to March 2013.

He said participants will also be asked to give the researchers permission to track their health over the next 30 years. "They don't have to do anything but give consent," he said, "but we would track them through things like medical records, vital statistics and the cancer registry."

In addition, he said, within a couple of years or more from the initial assessments, depending on funding, participants may be asked to complete another couple of questionnaires and tests, such as giving blood samples, to be compared with the initial test results.

Besides being available to researchers in this study, Thompson said the information collected will be available to other qualified researchers, who have the appropriate ethics approvals.

"So, the idea really is to build this research platform," he said, "which can be used by a very broad range of researchers and the information collection is designed so it can also be linked with similar studies."

Thompson said all four Atlantic premiers endorsed the study at a recent premiers meeting and agreed to challenge Atlantic Canadians to become involved. Besides the federal funds, he said some provincial governments and cancer agencies have also contributed funding to the study.

An official announcement on the Newfoundland and Labrador part of the study is expected to be made within a few weeks.

Thompson said he's hoping people will be excited about it and become involved.

"We're just a vehicle for people to help themselves," he said, considering the information collected is expected to be beneficial to cancer research that will go toward improving the population's health in the future.

More information on the study can be found online at

Organizations: Atlantic Partnership for Tomorrow, Canadian Partnership, Dalhousie University Canadian Cancer Society Nova Scotia division

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John's, Canada Nova Scotia Atlantic

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Recent comments

  • Kathy Giles
    November 08, 2011 - 22:43

    I say as a faithful Volunteer with Atlantic Path from New Brunswick, we as Atlantic Canadians need to get on board and sign up and sign up others. This is our chance to help our families, friends, community and New Brunswick. Atlantic Path has given us the tools and they have the expertise to make this study successful but they need our help. I am going to continue doing my part until March 2012! Life is about giving back to help other. This large a study may never come our way again, let's support Research and be part of the cure!

  • Wanda
    October 25, 2011 - 13:08

    I am glad to hear that this project will soon be started in our province and very interested in becoming a participant. Cancer has taken my father, mother, and sister. My brother was diagnosed a few months ago and another brother is being treated for cancer. This research project is another positive step in the fight against cancer, thank-you and God Bless all who are involved.

  • Bridget Greene
    October 25, 2011 - 11:44

    Speed up the wait time for tests. People are dying because they are diagnosis in the advanced stages.Simple tests can save lives.

  • madeline cahill
    October 24, 2011 - 21:08

    I am presently being treated for colon-rectal cancer and have under gone surgery for same and am now being treated with Chemo.If there is any way I can get involved or benefit from this research please contact me.It is such a wonderful process and will prove beneficial in the future.Thanks so much.Madeline

  • Ray Johnson
    October 24, 2011 - 11:36

    Hi There, Finally a wake up call as it relates to cancer in this province. As spokesperson for the Community Linkages organization I wish to salute Mr. Thompson and others in bringing this important issue to the forefront, especially to the citizens of this province. Myself, Mr. Gerry Higgins and others have been pushing this important issue forward so as to let all concerned citizens know the effects this disease is having on our population. Education and getting involved is the way the CLC sees this issue unfolding for the betterment of this province. -Ray Johnson Chair--Community Linkages