Medical research looks at risk factors for cancer from many aspects, including genetic and environmental influences. Bringing family members into a single study can assist in comparing and identifying risk factors. Two large-scale sister studies being conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health, bring together sisters and parents to study breast cancer risk factors. Both the Sister Study and the Two-Sister Study received enthusiastic response and have reached maximum enrollment, so they are no longer accepting applications.
The design of the original Sister Study assisted in launching the Gulf Study, a research project that will provide long-term follow-up on possible effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The oil spill occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in Spring 2010.
The Original Sister Study
The Sister Study began first, attempting to enroll at least 50,000 sisters of women who have had breast cancer to learn how environment and genes might affect a woman’s chances of getting breast cancer. In 2009, the Sister Study achieved its goal of 50,000 enrollees. It is following the health history of these women, without breast cancer at the time of enrollment but whose sister or sisters did have breast cancer. Sisters in the study went through an extensive intake procedure and will continue to provide information to the Sister Study for 10 years or more.
Because it incorporates multiple aspects of a woman’s health, the Sister Study expects to provide results regarding heart disease and other women’s health issues in addition to results regarding breast cancer and other types of cancer. Study administrators hope that the study will develop recommendations for preventing breast cancer as well as recommendations for promoting overall good health for women.
The Two-Sister Study
The enthusiastic response and enrollment in the original Sister Study prompted a spin-off study called the Two-Sister Study. This study is researching risk factors specifically directed to young-onset breast cancer. Participants are enrollees from the original Sister Study whose sister was diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50. Unlike the original Sister Study, the Two-Sister Study also involves parents and the original sister who had breast cancer. In addition to risk factors for cancer and overall women’s health issues, the Two-Sister Study will look at long-term health following treatment for breast cancer.
Many organizations assisted the sister studies during enrollment and are continuing to support the studies in a variety of ways. For example, the American Cancer Society, Sisters Network Inc., Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Komen Grants Program, and Breast Cancer Network of Strength initially circulated information, encouraged women to participate, and are continuing to contribute support when needed. There are many national, regional, and local organizations that assisted efforts to ensure that populations of all demographics were reached, making study participants as diverse as possible. The study website shows a complete list of cooperating partner organizations.
For More Information
The sister studies have prompted development of several related efforts, including the Early Life Exposures Study and collaborative projects with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention responding to legislation passed in 2010 known as the EARLY Act. For further information about the sister studies, contact the Sister Study helpline at 1-877-4SISTER (1-877-474-7837) or [email protected]