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Canada's Largest Cancer Study may have Global Impact for Preventing Chronic Disease

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The largest ever cancer study in Canada will collect lifestyle information and human tissue and fluid specimens on 300,000 Canadians and follow them for up to 30 years. Their aim is to understand the complex interplay between environment, lifestyle and genetics in the development of cancer and other chronic illnesses.

The study, called the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project, a collaborative involving British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, and Atlantic Canada, will allow global researchers to access information on disease outcomes not recorded in cancer registries or on death certificates, by linking provincial health data into a national data network. The study is unique in that it will ensure consistency in its data and specimen collection and practices across the country.

“We think that a common constellation of risk factors may lead to the development of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers, however, for many malignancies and chronic diseases we know very little about the causes,” said Dr. Marilyn Borugian, a senior scientist at the BC Cancer Agency and coauthor of an analysis outlining the Partnership published April 26, 2010 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).

For example, the collection of a detailed residence history for each participant offers the potential to map "the locations of fixed sources of carcinogens and mobile sources of potential morbidity, such as air and water pollution," the CMAJ analysis said.

The data is expected to uncover how a variety of factors interact to contribute to the development of cancer, but it may also give scientists research data to study other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart and lung diseases, according to the analysis.

“As the proportion of people over the age of 65 grows in Western countries, the number of people with cancer and other chronic conditions is also increasing. It is imperative to understand the causes of these diseases to aid in prevention by reducing the number of expected new cases of cancer and lessen the likelihood of Canadians dying from cancer.

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