Sister Study

by Abigail Knowles Wolfe (BPRW)

Sister Study
Many of us have experienced the loss of a loved one due to breast cancer. Mothers, aunts, grandmothers, cousins, even sisters. One in eight American women will battle breast cancer in her lifetime. This is more than 10% of all women living in this nation. Even as I sit here writing this my mind wanders to image the faces of all of the women I have known and loved over the years and lost to breast cancer: My grandmother and aunt both in 1999, my favorite family friend Kathy in 2001 who I’d known since birth, the list goes on and on.

There is only one long-term study going on in the United States right now taking into account familial relations and how environment and genetics play into women ultimately being diagnosed with breast cancer. It is called the Sister Study and studies women ranging in age from 35 to 74. Women participating in the Sister Study have had a sister diagnosed with breast cancer. The study, conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, will follow 50,000 women for a minimum time period of 10 years. Women who have battled the disease themselves are often spokespersons for the study.

The study is meant to reveal many of the unknown reasons so many women get breast cancer and how it can be prevented and treated more effectively in the future. It is especially important that women from all ethnic and racial backgrounds participate in this study because the more researchers know the better they can predict and prevent the disease in the future. Breast cancer is the most common cancer amongst African American women and its incidence amongst African American women under the age of 34 is higher that of white women although white women have a higher incidence rate.

Sister’s Network Inc. (SNI) is the only African American breast cancer survivorship organization in the United States. Founder & CEO Karen Eubanks Jackson is a breast cancer survivor and her sister, Kim, a Sister Study participant from Maryland. Sisters Network Inc. became an official partner of the Sister Study in 2003 with the apropos slogan “Stop the Silence.” This statement speaks to the history of not discussing cancer and other life-threatening concerns within the African American community.

While signing up for a medical study many sound intimidating, the Sister Study is easy and virtually pain free. Blood will be taken once at the initiation of the study as well as finger nail clippings, household dust and urine over the following weeks. A certified technician comes right to the participant’s home to collect the appropriate samples and questionnaires are color coded for ease of use. Phone lines are open in case of further questions. The Sister Study gives women the power to do something productive for a loved one who has battled breast cancer. Their support of this project paves the way for future generations, in hopes of having figured some unknown factors out by then and preventing other women’s suffering from breast cancer.
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