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February 6, 2007 • Volume 4 / Number 6 E-Mail This Document  |  Download PDF  |  Bulletin Archive/Search  |  Subscribe

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Community UpdateCommunity Update

Sister Study Seeks Participants

"Woman by woman…sister by sister…we can make a difference."

That slogan is the unifying theme of a unique effort mounted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), a long-term research project known as the Sister Study. Researchers are recruiting 50,000 women aged 35 to 74, with one crucial trait in common: They all have a sister who developed breast cancer.

Such women are known to be at higher risk of developing breast cancer themselves. Sister Study participants will provide researchers with valuable prospective data because of their links with their sisters: shared genes, a common diet and environment in youth, or even common gene-environment interactions.

Jean Peelen is one of them. In 2001, her younger sister Lynn was diagnosed with breast cancer. "We were all shocked. With no cancer of any kind in our family background, we naïvely thought we were somehow bulletproof," she explains. "Far from it. My older sister Lois was diagnosed a few years ago, and then my older daughter." Both Ms. Peelen and her younger daughter are enrolled in the Sister Study, more committed than ever after Lynn died in 2006. "We still can’t explain it," she says. "That’s the part that nags at me and why we are doing our bit to help researchers answer the "Why me?’ question." Ms. Peelen is also actively advocating and helping to recruit older women.

Though more than 32,000 women have enrolled, researchers are pushing hard to recruit the remaining 18,000 women by the end of 2007. "Many women have heard about the project, but they haven’t signed up yet, and we really need them now," says Dr. Dale Sandler, NIEHS Epidemiology Branch chief and principal study investigator. "Physicians know very little about how the environment may affect breast cancer, which is why the Sister Study is so important."

"Women play many important roles throughout their lives—daughter, mother, and friend—but no relationship is as unique as the one between two sisters," explains Sara Williams, part of the recruitment team.

"We’re committed to enrolling women in every state, and from all backgrounds, occupations, races, and ethnicities," she comments. "That way, the study results will be widely representative, and of the greatest value."

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

The Sister Study Web site is available in English and Spanish, and those interested in joining can determine whether they may be eligible online. For more information go to, or for Spanish to A toll-free number is also available: 877-4SISTER (877-474-7837). Deaf/Hard of Hearing: 866-TTY-4SIS (866-889-4747).