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AARP Announces Efforts To Support the Sister Study

NIH Breast Cancer Research Seeking More Older Women

WASHINGTON-- AARP, the nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization for people age 50 plus announced that it will help recruit older women for the Sister Study, a landmark breast cancer study of 50,000 sisters of women who have had breast cancer. Older women are especially important to this effort because 78 percent of all new invasive breast cancer cases are in women aged 50 and older, and more than half of those women are age 65 plus.

“AARP is delighted to join with the Sister Study in this unique effort to better understand the connection of both the environment and genetics as contributing factors to breast cancer,” said Cheryl Matheis, AARP Director of Health Strategy. “We hope our involvement will increase participation by older women who are so critical to help researchers address the causes of this disease and lead to better prevention in the future.”

By including older women in the study, researchers will be able to compare the impact of environmental exposures and genes on the risk of developing breast cancer at different ages. Since many breast cancers take years to develop, they will be able to study how exposures that happened 20 or more years ago affect breast cancer risk. The life experiences of older women differ from those of younger women in ways that might be important to determine breast cancer risk.

Women in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, ages 35 to 74, may be eligible to join the study if they have a sister (living or deceased) who has had breast cancer. Women who join the study must never have been diagnosed with breast cancer themselves. The Sister Study is conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), one of the National Institutes of Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Study leaders expect enrollment to reach the 50,000 sisters goal within the next few months, and say that AARP’s partnership could help to more than double the number of older women participating in the study, which currently stands at approximately 6,000.

Dale Sandler, Ph.D., chief of the Epidemiology Branch at NIEHS and principal investigator of the Sister Study said, “We are very excited about the support from AARP and look forward to working with them to spread the word about this important research to more senior women. This is a special call to mothers, grandmothers, aunts and all women ages 65-74, to take action and participate in groundbreaking research, designed to identify causes of breast cancer that might someday lead to strategies for preventing breast cancer in future generations.”

Jean Peelen, a Sister Study participant and AARP member lost her sister Lynn to breast cancer in 2006 and has another sister, Lois, who is a breast cancer survivor. “In addition to enrolling in the study, I speak to people about how they can be of assistance,” she said. “If women aren’t eligible for the Sister Study, I let them know how they can still help by passing out brochures to women in their communities, churches, sororities, labor and professional organizations, and civic groups.”

“One of my daughters, Jennifer, was diagnosed with breast cancer in December, so her sister has joined the study as well. And I have six granddaughters. I am compelled to do this so that researchers can find the causes of breast cancer before my granddaughters are endangered.”

Women can learn more about the Sister Study on its web site or the Spanish-language site You can also get more information by calling 1-877-4SISTER (877-474-7837) and (TTY) 1-866-TTY-4SIS (866-889-4747).

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