Maybe you think you're doing all you can to prevent cancer.
You don't touch tobacco. You never drink to excess. You love fruits, vegetables, high-fiber grains and legumes. You avoid foods with unpronounceable ingredients.
You watch your weight, you exercise every day, know your family health history and get recommended screenings.
But have you offered up your healthy self to science?
This is not about donating your body to medical research after your death, though that's a great idea too. Today's topic is much lower-impact: participating in the American Cancer Society's third Cancer Prevention Study, known as CPS-3.
Dating back to the 1950s, the cancer society has sponsored data collection and analysis that have been invaluable to unlocking the secrets of cancer. The first and perhaps most famous contribution of CPS was in detailing tobacco's role in cancer.
But it also has helped scientists see how factors such as obesity and air pollution, diabetes and family history affect cancer risk. It has shed light on the potential of aspirin to inhibit colorectal cancer, and on how hormone replacement therapy may relate to cancers of the colon, breast, and ovary.
Now the cancer society is wrapping up volunteer recruitment for CPS-3, its biggest examination yet of the genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors that may prevent or cause cancer. Qualifications are simple: Just be a man or woman, ages 30 to 65, who has never been diagnosed with cancer (except for basal or squamous cell skin cancer).
Participation is pretty simple too: You fill out a questionnaire that asks about health and lifestyle — nothing too invasive; it will take about 20 minutes to complete. You'll give a small blood sample (about 7 teaspoons). Your height, weight, waist circumference and blood pressure also will be taken. But please — don't stay away if you're self-conscious about your weight. Nobody will scold you. Scientists need all kinds of people to participate if they're going to get meaningful results.
Researchers will follow up in the coming years, asking questions you can answer from your home. Be sure you're willing to commit — you're just wasting precious time and resources if you sign up and then drop out.
St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa is holding an enrollment event May 2. St. Joseph's is part of the BayCare system, whose employees (many of whom themselves are participating) have been competing to sign up recruits, explained Michael Hance, interim director of St. Joseph's Cancer Institute.
"People generally look at these (studies) and think they're important, but they might not realize, 'Hey, my voice can count,' or 'I can be useful,' '' he told me.
Generally, participation in scientific research has been declining in recent years. Some people worry about privacy (though projects like CPS-3 carefully guard identity); others are suspicious of surveys of any kind or think they don't have time.
People who have a disease understandably want to know how they got it, and so tend to be more willing to sign up for a study. But healthy people often are less eager, or have other priorities.
"I should have enrolled last year,'' admitted Hance, who also is director of imaging at the hospital. "You just get busy and forget about it. But here's a great program that can help you personally, and help your children and grandchildren moving forward.''
And this year?
"I will be going, yes ma'am,'' he said. "It's on my calendar.''
Participants are needed for many kinds of clinical trials. You can find studies through research institutions, advocacy organizations and government agencies like the National Institutes of Health, which has a website full of human clinical studies being performed around the world: www.clinicaltrials.gov.
Participation is a great way to show support or pay tribute to a loved one. But really, you can't know who you might help by getting involved. That may be the most exciting part of all.