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Your Environment. Your Health.

Florida, Arizona, Missouri and Rhode Island Chosen to Kick Off Recruitment of Sisters of Women with Breast Cancer in Landmark Search for Its Causes

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)

News Release

Archive - New Contact Information

For more information about this archival news release, please contact Christine Flowers, Director, Office of Communications & Public Liaison at (919) 541-3665.
Thursday, March 4, 2004, 12:00 p.m. EDT
Contact: John Schelp, NIEHS
(919) 541-5723

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (, one of the National Institutes of Health ( , is kicking off its major new study to discover environmental causes of breast cancer by opening and expanding enrollment to women in four states before launching a nationwide effort this summer. The four states where recruitment is currently taking place are Florida, Arizona, Missouri and Rhode Island. Enrolling minority women will be a major focus of the 4-state recruitment effort as investigators plan for the national study.

The study will eventually require 50,000 women volunteers nationwide, ages 35 to 74 who have not had breast cancer but who have a sister that has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Sisters of women with breast cancer are known to be at greater risk of breast cancer than other women. By following these sisters for ten years or more, the researchers hope to find clues about why sisters are more likely to develop breast cancer. The researchers speculate that the reason for the higher risk among sisters of women with breast cancer could be due to shared genes, a common diet, a common environment in youth, or even common gene-environment interactions.

In addition, the researchers hope to step up recruitment efforts in minority communties in these cities. They hope to learn whether there are differences in risk factors between African-American women and women from other groups that have been studied, which have predominantly included white women.

By means of simple tests and questionnaires, the NIEHS researchers will look at environmental and other factors. The volunteers themselves may gain no medical benefit from the research, but study participant Connie Orr, sister of Sherrill Jackson, an 11-year breast cancer survivor from St. Louis, Mo., explained her motivation to join the Sister Study. Orr said, "In honor of my sister, I joined the Sister Study. I wanted to turn something negative into something positive by giving my time to this important study and helping future generations."

The Sister Study ( is committed to include women from all walks of life as well as racial and ethnic groups. During February the focus has been on recruitment of African-American women to coincide with Black History Month. Alarmingly, African-American women ages 30-59 have the highest breast cancer death rate. Additionally, the five-year survival rate for this minority group is 73 percent compared to 88 percent among white women. Participating in the Sister Study has the potential for providing scientists, health officials, and women in general with crucial information that may help prevent breast cancer in future generations.

Recruitment started in four cities in fall 2002: Phoenix, Ariz.; Tampa, Fla.; St. Louis, Mo.; and Providence, R.I. These cities, and now their respective states, were selected for their size and geographic, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. Recruiting strategies will be fine tuned in these states until the study goes national in the summer.

Dale Sandler, Ph.D., Chief of the Epidemiology Branch at NIEHS and principal investigator for the study, said that the efforts of breast cancer patient advocacy groups and other health and volunteer organizations have played a major role in getting recruitment for the study started. Dr. Sandler said, "Our study is one way women can join together to take action and essentially fight back against this disease. We are particularly interested in spreading the word among minority populations in hopes that a long-term study with a large number of racially and ethnically diverse groups of women will yield new results that will benefit future generations of those communities and will inform the research community at large."

So far, the Race for the Cure events in various cities and community outreach to local and business groups have served as important forums for recruitment. Dr. Sandler said that she hopes media outlets will join in with their support, and perhaps some of the sister pairs will follow the example of those who have already shared the story of their participation in the study.

To volunteer or learn more about the Sister Study, go to the website or call toll free 1-877-474-7837.

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