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Help fight cancer

The B.C. Cancer Agency is hoping an hour's worth of your time will turn into a generation's worth of invaluable research data.

The B.C. Cancer Agency is hoping an hour's worth of your time will turn into a generation's worth of invaluable research data. Representatives from the agency were in Coquitlam Wednesday to open up a temporary assessment centre on Clarke Road, where local residents - including those from New Westminster - can volunteer to be a part of the largest cancer prevention study in Canadian history.

Dubbed the B.C. Generations Project, the wide-reaching study is aimed at residents between the ages of 35 and 69, regardless of health, race or sex.

Those who sign up for the project will be asked to produce both blood and urine samples, on top of filling out a questionnaire, to better understand how lifestyle choices, genetics and environmental factors interact to cause chronic diseases.

"This is something that's going to provide data not just for one researcher for tomorrow, but this is going to be available to researchers for the next 25 years," said Dr. John Spinelli, the principal investigator behind the project. "And it's going to benefit your children, your neighbours, and, in fact, all Canadians will benefit from this."

Intended to serve the Tri-Cities, New Westminster and Burnaby, the assessment centre will be open for about a month at its location at Unit 552C 526 Clarke Rd.

The Coquitlam centre will be the fourth location funded by the B.C. Cancer Foundation this year.

"This project is looking at the population that doesn't have cancer at the current time, and hopefully we'll be able to see what changes are going on in those individuals over time who develop cancer," said Douglas Nelson, president and CEO of the B.C. Cancer Foundation. "That's what's going to allow us to be much better at early detection and prevention."

According to Spinelli, those interested in donating their time will need only about a half-hour to do so. The process first involves signing off on consent forms before blood and urine samples are taken, and in some cases, other measurements and data will be collected. From there, questionnaires outlining lifestyle choices and medical history are given to the volunteers, who can return them at a later date.

Spinelli noted that researchers will follow up with volunteers on a yearly basis to see if anything has changed over the course of that year - whether it be a change of address or a change in health.

"I won't say it's a lifetime commitment, but almost," Spinelli said.

"We will be in regular contact with our participants, and we'll be asking them additional questions because you can't ask everything at once."

It was initially hoped 40,000 B.C. residents would be on board with the volunteer campaign by March 2012, although as of now, only about 13,000 have signed up.

Despite that fact, Spinelli suggested that timeline will likely be extended. As for privacy concerns, Nelson noted that all data collected is completely anonymous.

"When researchers are looking at (the data), they won't know the person's name, so the data is anonymous," he said. "And people do get information about their own health that they can take away with them and have a discussion with their doctors, so there is some value there."

The B.C. Generations Project is part of a larger national research effort called the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project. That project has the same goals as found in the B.C. context, and researchers will share data to compare more broadbased trends as the study moves forward.

See for more information.