Baylor launches landmark online pediatric cancer study
Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital have launched a landmark online study, called “The Reasons Why Us,” to investigate the environmental and associated genetic risk factors for pediatric cancer. This epidemiological study is being conducted in partnership with The Oliver Foundation in Florida, which so far has engaged nearly 400 families who have been affected by pediatric cancer and want to participate in the research.
Baylor’s research comes amid a recognized but, as yet, unexplained increase in the incidence of pediatric cancer in the U.S. A steady 1 percent per year increase in the number of pediatric cancer cases has led to an overall 48 percent increase in cases since 1975, according to the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program. Around 16,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed in children and teenagers annually.
Dr. Michael Scheurer, professor of pediatrics – hematology and oncology and co-director of the Center for Epidemiology and Population Health at Baylor, said they are conducting the study to better understand the causes of different pediatric cancers and the mechanisms whereby environmental toxicants trigger the disease. Given the overall rarity of childhood cancers, it can be difficult to conduct these large epidemiological studies at any single institution.
“By launching this web-based study, we hope to obtain significant data from a large number of families on a shorter timeline, which will be critical to identifying associations,” said Scheurer, also a molecular epidemiologist at Texas Children’s Cancer Center. “We hope this will lead to implementation of measures to limit exposures, increase public safety and prevent the cancers occurring in the first place. We need to widen society’s focus on detection, diagnosis and treatment to assertively embrace prevention.”
The study will ask parents to answer questions concerning diet, neonatal exposures, medications, infections, and sports and leisure activities. Once the data is collected, Scheurer’s epidemiology team at Baylor will assess exposures to key environmental toxicants. This will involve multiple datasets including air and water studies, exposure to pollution and analyses of baby teeth for the presence of these chemicals early in life.
“The Reasons Why Us” is the principle initiative of The Oliver Foundation, founded by Simon Strong and his wife, Vilma Tarazona, after the death of their 12-year-old son, Oliver, 36 hours after he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia following one week of headaches.
“When we discovered that, like many other childhood illnesses, the pediatric cancer rate had soared and that, by scientific consensus, environmental causes in the broadest sense are primarily responsible, we decided we wanted to focus on those factors: the toxicants in our air, our water and our consumer products that trigger carcinogenesis,” Strong said. “We are incredibly fortunate to have Baylor’s commitment to this research and humbled at the opportunity to muster the support of families afflicted by this terrible, but ultimately preventable, disease and who want to contribute their experience for the betterment of future generations.”
Families can sign up for the study online at TheReasonsWhy.Us.