Cancer researcher Alpa Patel is in Milwaukee this week to recruit candidates for a bold experiment and a good cause.
Dr. Patel, a cancer specialist with the American Cancer Society, appeared at the Italian Community Center today as part of a community kick-off event for an ambitious cancer prevention study intended to save lives and educate Americans about how their lifestyles are impacted by personal habits and diet.
Patel wants to sign up local residents to participate in an adventurous medical study that has already involved hundreds of thousands of Americans for more than 50 years. In fact, Patel, who is based in Atlanta, has met 80-year-olds who participated in the second generation of the cancer prevention study who talked about their significant roles in the groundbreaking survey.
One woman in particular told Patel about her pride in being part of a cancer study credited with helping government and the public at large understand the connection between smoking and lung cancer.
"She talked about being in a smoke free restaurant with her family and telling her grandkids, 'You owe me for this,'" said Patel, during an interview. "Then, she encouraged all of them to participate in this study."
The third generation of the cancer study will begin this year and is currently enrolling the final participants. Called the CPS-3 study, the plan is to get 300,000 Americans between the ages of 30 and 65 years old to agree to participate in a study of their blood, waist measurement and providing details about their personal medical history.
The applicants must have never been diagnosed with cancer (not including certain skin cancers) and must be willing to make a long-term commitment to the study.
By long term, that means applicants must be willing to enroll and make periodic follow-up surveys for the next 20-30 years.
Patel admitted the length of the commitment shocked some people: "They say, 'You want me to do for how long?!'"
But many do make the commitment after learning the actual time spent on follow-up, including periodic waist measurements, interviews and blood samples doesn't translate to much more than a day of work over the entire 20-30 years, Patel said.
Actually, the biggest stumbling block for some applicants wasn't time but other factors.
"Drawing blood, that's a big one," she said.
Particularly for some minority groups, including African-Americans. The American Cancer Society has met resistance recruiting candidates to join the latest study and is making a concerted effort to spread the word about an examination of cancer that is just as important to black and brown people as it is for whites.
Patel said the previous cancer studies were almost 95 percent white due to a variety of factors, including a lack of outreach to minorities but also what Patel called "an historic mistrust" of the medical community by some African-Americans who have heard horror stories about scientific experiments conducted on black patients without their consent.
Some of the paranoia is unfounded but Patel said many African-Americans mentioned an actual study in Tuskegee of syphilis in black men that became a well-known Broadway play and TV drama, "Miss Evers' Boys."
Patel said the goal for the remaining number of candidates for the CPS-3 study was to have 20 percent "non-white" participation.
Enrollment for the CPS-3 will take place at various times and locations in Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin from April 25 to May 10.
Anyone who wants to make an appointment to be a part of the study should visit the CPS-3 website here or call (888) 604-5888.
Just like a previous cancer prevention study created a smoke-free environment in public places most people take for granted, this next one could also lead to significant and healthier change in society.
It might take a while, but when it comes to fighting cancer it's time worth waiting.
Eugene Kane is veteran Milwaukee journalist and nationally award winning columnist.
Kane writes about a variety of important issues in Milwaukee and society that impact residents of all backgrounds.