Florida Keys residents have the opportunity to participate in a landmark cancer prevention study by the American Cancer Society, one that seeks 300,000 people across the country to make a 20-year commitment to the project.
The Cancer Prevention Study 3, or CPS 3, allows for 150 Keys residents to sign up for the study -- men and women between ages 30 and 65 who have never been diagnosed with cancer and are willing to complete follow-up written surveys at home for the next 20 to 30 years. People who have had basal or squamous cell skin cancer may participate.
Key West is one of 26 study sign-up sites. Volunteers may enroll from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday under a tent at the corner of Truman Avenue and Jose Marti Drive in Bayview Park, where the 17th annual Relay For Life of the Lower Keys will unfold throughout the night and into Saturday afternoon. Enrolling takes about 45 minutes and requires drawing some blood, a waist measurement, and filling out a survey packet.
"We were chosen this year and this will be the only time they will have it here," said Randy Detrick, spokesman for Lower Keys Medical Center. "It is the largest cancer prevention study in the world."
The study's aim is to better identify lifestyle, environmental and genetic factors that cause cancer. Researchers want a quarter of the 300,000 participants to be minorities, in an effort to determine whether risk factors vary among different racial and ethnic communities.
Carrie Helliesen, executive director of the Florida Keys Unit of the American Cancer Society, is an 18-year cancer survivor herself, but she isn't drumming up participants for the study.
"I'm not persuading anyone to enroll in the CPS 3," said Helliesen. "What I am doing is increasing awareness and education. If somebody wants to make a difference in trying to find the cause and cure for cancer and is willing to make a long-term commitment, they could impact the prevention of cancer over the next 20 years."
People who have volunteered for similar studies have said it was to honor a loved one who died of the disease, or a public service donation, the cancer society reported on its website, www.cancer.org.
The website lists all of the study sign-ups in various states and details the study's goals.
Organizers of the local Relay For Life, an event that has drawn 327 participants in 37 teams, and raised more than $44,000, believe they will have 150 volunteers for the study in due time.
"We have a feeling that will happen," Helliesen said. "It may sell out, if you will, before 9 p.m."
The Relay event, whose opening ceremonies start at 5 p.m., lasts at least 18 hours and includes people walking laps around the park overnight, while hundreds of candles light the park's border. Teams camp out along the edges of the park, and a Survivors' Tent is located in the center.
"It symbolizes what a cancer patient goes through," Helliesen said. "It goes all through the night, when it's grim and gloomy and hard. It's rough in the morning, but they keep going."