Two characteristics that make New Jersey unique – its density and its diversity – also make it a key location for a massive long-term national study of cancer.
The American Cancer Society is launching the third major cancer-prevention study in its history, and a large-scale effort is under way in New Jersey to get residents to enroll in the program.
West Orange-based Barnabas Health is playing a lead role in the enrollment effort, seeking to sign up participants at five of its hospitals from June 11 through June 13. The ACS and Barnabas Health held an event yesterday to launch the campaign.
The ACS is seeking 300,000 participants nationwide, including several thousand in New Jersey. Participants must be between the ages of 30 and 65, have never been diagnosed with cancer and be willing to participate in the study for more than 20 years.
New Jersey is one of 35 states to be included in the study, which won’t include some less-populated states.
The study will be based on a series of surveys, focusing on participants’ lifestyles, that they will complete every few years. The ACS’s goal for the study, known as CPS-3, is to better understand the lifestyle, environmental and genetic factors that cause or prevent cancer and “ultimately, to help eliminate cancer as a major health concern for future generations,” according to society officials.
Along with five Barnabas Health System sites, a total of nine other hospital and community health centers will host enrollment sessions in coming weeks. Would-be participants must schedule appointments at which they will be required to fill out surveys, give blood samples and have their waist measurements taken.
The two previous major cancer-prevention studies conducted by the ACS resulted in major findings. The first, conducted from 1959 to 1972, substantiated the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. The second, begun in 1982 and ongoing, has confirmed links between various lifestyle and environmental factors and certain types of cancer.
An average of 50,650 New Jersey residents are diagnosed with cancer each year, which equates to roughly five every hour, according to Dr. Fred M. Jacobs, the former state health commissioner and current chief medical officer for the ACS in New Jersey and New York.
“We can make a difference and we can actually change those numbers,” by gaining a better understanding of the factors that cause and prevent cancer, Jacobs said.
Barnabas Health President and CEO Barry Ostrowsky said the study would contribute to his health system’s goal of helping people stay healthy “so they don’t need our sickness care.” He added that system’s hospitals would be working to maximize enrollment in the study in their respective communities.
The system’s involvement in the study stems from its longstanding relationship with the ACS, Ostrowsky said, adding that Barnabas’ involvement in a study of this size and scope is unprecedented for the system. He said that a broader conversation about how lifestyle choices affect cancer risk is vital.
“Outside the science of it, I think the fact that we’re involving those folks in the communities in which we are located begins momentum about people really paying attention to the way they live and how they take care of themselves,” Ostrowsky said.
The event at the Barnabas headquarters also included a request by Andrea J. Gleason, a four-time cancer survivor who has been treated at St. Barnabas Medical Center.
“I ask that all of you see yourselves as a champion of CPS-3,” said Gleason.
The event led Lisa Agudo, a Roseland resident who works in corporate human resources for Barnabas, to schedule an enrollment appointment. She said that the event coincided with the fifth anniversary of her mother’s death from lung cancer.
“Things happen for a reason, so I had to be here today,” said Agudo, adding that hearing Gleason speak “was quite inspiring.”
Dr. David Gallinson, president of the Oncology Society of New Jersey, said he was encouraged by the strong push for New Jersey residents to participate in the study.
“Our best treatment for cancer is preventing cancer, the second best is detection,” and large-scale epidemiological studies like CPS-3 can help develop new strategies for both approaches, Gallinson said.
He noted that New Jersey has had a history of having pockets of cancer associated with industry, including mesothelioma linked to asbestos production. Studies similar to the new one were invaluable in detecting these links and improving the safety of industrial production in New Jersey, he said.