By now, most everyone knows that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s hard to miss, what with pink-ribbon events at every turn. But while promoting awareness is critical—for early detection, for education, for fundraising—what if you could help cure breast cancer yourself?
That’s the ambitious goal behind a pioneering new research initiative launched by breast cancer expert Susan Love, M.D. The Health of Women (HOW) study is a massive, crowdsourced platform that invites participants to ask their own questions about breast cancer, its causes, and its consequences.
“It’s an opportunity for people to get involved in research, not just walking and running and wearing pink,” says Love, whose research foundation is conducting the study with the Beckman Research Institute at City of Hope near Los Angeles. The main purpose of the project is to track the health of tens or even hundreds of thousands of women over as many as 20 years, to try to find hidden patterns that may help explain what causes breast cancer, and why some women survive even when medical science says they shouldn’t.
“These kinds of observations are sometimes better coming from people who are not scientists, who aren’t stuck in the same way of thinking about things,” Love says. “By crowdsourcing the questions, we’ll be able to come up with some new clues.”
Conducted entirely online, the HOW study is open to any adult—men as well as women, those who have had breast cancer and those who haven’t. Three or four times a year, participants will get a questionnaire about aspects of their health, job, diet, lifestyle, and family history. They’ll also be able to submit questions for the researchers to put to the group. Nearly 50,000 people have already signed up, 10,000 of them breast cancer survivors.
Love also hopes to cast a light on the “collateral damage” of breast cancer treatment—something the medical profession too often dismisses. (“Hey you survived, didn’t you?” she says wryly, in a nod to the typical establishment view.) For that effort, Love’s foundation has teamed up with two other leading breast cancer groups, Susan G. Komen and Young Survival Coalition.
The collaboration of three heavyweights “is a game changer for the breast cancer world,” says Young Survival CEO Jennifer Merschdorf. Yes, it has the potential to revolutionize research, but it also represents another great leap forward: organizations in the sometimes fractious world of breast cancer all working together. “It shows that in breast cancer we don’t all have to agree on everything,” Love says, “but we can collaborate on projects that really push things forward.”
To learn more about the Health of Women study, or to sign up, visit questionthecure.com.