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Doctor Doctor: The Sister Study — Gathering Information for Tomorrow’s Women

Network - Spring 2008

The Center for Research on Minority Health (CRMH) in the Department of Health Disparities at M. D. Anderson has joined forces with a national breast cancer trial called the Sister Study to encourage more minority women to participate in breast cancer research. The principal investigator at the institution is Lovell Jones, Ph.D., director of the CRMH and a professor in the Department of Health Disparities Research.

What is the Sister Study and who is conducting it?

The Sister Study is a nationwide effort to learn how environment and genes affect the chances of getting breast cancer. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is conducting the study.

Who is eligible to join the study?

The Sister Study researchers want 50,000 women from all backgrounds, occupations, races and ethnicities to join so the results will represent and benefit women in the United States and Puerto Rico. Women 35 to 74 years old may be eligible if their sister (living or deceased), related to them by blood, had breast cancer; they have never had breast cancer themselves; and they live in the United States or Puerto Rico. Participants could have had other forms of cancer, but not breast cancer.

Why is the Sister Study so important?

Doctors know very little about how the environment may affect breast cancer. Yet, more than 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year.

In addition, most of what researchers know about breast cancer risk comes from studies primarily of white women. Their results don’t explain why some risks seem to be different for African-American, Latina and Asian women. Overall, black women are more likely to develop breast cancer at a younger age, have higher death rates due to the disease and often have more aggressive tumors. The real question is why?

What does participation involve?

Participants may take part in either English or Spanish. In the beginning, they will answer over-the-phone questions and fill out written surveys. For the collection of blood, urine, household dust and toenail samples, a registered health technician will go directly to a participant’s home.

Participants are not required to take any medicine, undergo any medical treatment, or make any changes in their habits, diet or daily life. They are free to ask questions about diet, jobs, hobbies and things they’ve been exposed to throughout their lives. After that, the Sister Study team will check in just once a year to learn about changes in health or environment.

All data are kept private and confidential. However, participants will be given frequent study updates.

What other organizations are involved in the study?

Organizations in partnership with the Sister Study include the American Cancer Society, the Intercultural Cancer Council, NIH’s National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities, Sisters Network Inc., the Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization.

In addition to working with its national partners, the Sister Study works with sororities, churches, labor and professional organizations, civic groups and numerous other local and national organizations to inform diverse women about the study.

How can someone enroll in the study?

To register, volunteer or learn more about the Sister Study, visit the Internet site: English or Spanish. A toll-free number is also available, 877-4SISTER (877-474-7837). Women who are deaf or hard of hearing may call 866-TTY-4SIS (866-889-4747).

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center