Voices From The Community
Story by Connie Bryson/Image by Veer
Dr. Heather Bryant discusses a 30-year study to track how people get cancer
It’s a puzzle. While many genetic and environmental factors increase the risk of developing cancer, not all people who are exposed to these factors, or who have other risk factors, develop cancer. In 2001, Alberta launched an ambitious study—the Tomorrow Project—to find out more about the causes of cancer.
The idea was to follow the health of thousands of Albertans over a long period of time. Learning more about lifestyle, health, and diet could help determine why some people develop particular cancers and other long-term health conditions, while others do not. This kind of study is called a “cohort study.” It takes a group of people who do not have the disease of interest and follows them over time, observing and recording their health status. Similar studies done decades ago revealed that high cholesterol and high blood pressure were risk factors for heart disease and stroke. These groundbreaking findings created new opportunities for prevention and treatment.
“At the time we started planning this study, there were already several large cohorts in North America, but most participants were health professionals,” says Dr. Heather Bryant, the original principal investigator on the Tomorrow Project and now Vice President, Cancer Control of the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. “We wanted to know whether average Albertans would respond positively to enrolling in a long-term study where their health records would be used for research. There was a worry that people would not want to participate.”
Those fears proved unfounded; the Tomorrow Project, which was funded by Alberta Health and Wellness, was an unqualified success. More than 12,000 people signed up in the first three years. The Alberta Cancer Board and Alberta Cancer Foundation stepped in to continue funding, and the project has now enrolled 30,000 Albertans.
Based on the success of the Tomorrow Project, a pan-Canadian research study was launched in 2008. The Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project will track 300,000 Canadians (ages 35 to 69) for at least the next 20 to 30 years. In Alberta, 50,000 people are being recruited—enlisting new participants in the study as well as hopefully re-enlisting the 30,000 participants who joined the study prior to 2008.
“This project is all about getting a deeper and richer understanding of how people live—their health and habits, what they eat, how much they exercise, where they work, where they live,” says Dr. Bryant. “To better understand how and why people develop cancer in the first place, we must explore how our environment, lifestyle, and genetic makeup interact to create cancer risks. Cancer is a complicated set of diseases. In this project, we aim to get a handle on an array of complex variables that otherwise would be impossible to capture. The data will be an incredible resource for research, a real asset to answering a number of important questions and developing better prevention and screening programs.”
Interested in participating in cancer research?
If you live in Alberta and are between the ages of 35 and 69, you’re invited to join Count Me In 4 Tomorrow. Participants will be asked to
- Answer questions about health and lifestyle
- Give simple physical measurements
- Give small amounts of urine and blood, or saliva
- Agree that the Tomorrow Project may contact you in the future
- Agree that the Tomorrow Project can request additional information from health records to answer specific research questions
For more information or to join the study, visit www.in4tomorrow.ca and complete the online form or call 1-877-919-9292.