Frequently Asked Questions
Find answers to the questions you have about the New Biospecimens Project. Click on the menu below to navigate to each section of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).
Questions About This Study
Q: Can you tell me more about this Study?
A: Cancer and other diseases, such as heart disease, are caused by genetic and lifestyle factors that interact with a person’s specific biologic characteristics. New research now makes it possible to measure many of those genetic and biologic factors much better than we ever could before.
One of the best ways to understand these interactions is to collect data and biospecimens from tens of thousands of study participants just like you. The goal of this project is to collect blood and saliva samples that can be used in the future to look for biological markers that might help to diagnose disease earlier or could be used to prevent the disease from occurring in the first place. This is a 4-year project that started in late 2012 and goes through 2016. We are building on the study by collecting a small sample of blood or saliva from over 20,000 women from different backgrounds who are current participants in the California Teachers Study, to look at biomarkers, such as circulating hormones, protein levels or genetic markers, to see how they may affect risk for breast cancer and other areas of women’s health.
Q: What are you looking for in this study?
A: Ever since the California Teachers Study began, we have been analyzing the data you and thousands of other participants have provided to find out more about what causes cancer and how to prevent it. Now we are collecting new blood and saliva samples from even more participants to learn more about how lifestyle, environmental, and genetic factors work together to increase or decrease a woman’s risk of developing cancer and other chronic diseases. When we have new results to announce, we will post that information on the website.
Q: Why are you studying DNA?
A: New tests now make it possible to better understand how DNA interacts with other factors, such as diet and lifestyle, to influence a person’s risk of developing cancer and many other conditions. Collecting blood and saliva samples today will enable the Study to better understand those interactions, with the hope of identifying new ways to prevent cancer and other diseases that affect women.
Q: Who's paying for this study?
A: This study is being funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). Both the NCI and the NIEHS are part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is part of the U.S. Federal Government.
Questions About Participating
Q: How did you get my information?
A: You joined the California Teachers Study in 1995-1996, and we are using the information you have provided to us as part of the Study. We only use that information to contact you about the study or to send you information about the study. If you have moved since you joined the California Teachers Study and we mailed study materials to your old address, then we probably received your forwarding address information from the US Post Office.
Q: I have been contacted before by the CTS. Is this the same study or a different study?
A: There are several ongoing studies within the overall California Teachers Study. You might have been contacted about the study questionnaires, or you might have been asked to participate in another project within the CTS. For this new project, we are asking women who have not previously donated a blood or saliva sample in the Teachers Study to do so for the first time.
Q: Why do you need me to participate?
A: We hope everyone who is asked will agree to participate. We are asking you because you have been a great California Teachers Study participant over the years. We carefully selected the subgroup of study participants who we thought would provide the best information for this project.
Q: I signed up for the study at USC. Why is this invitation coming from another hospital?
A: Ever since it started, the California Teachers Study has been led by a team of researchers at different universities and cancer centers throughout California. When the California Teachers Study started, the lead researchers were at USC. In 2007, one of those researchers, Dr. Bernstein, moved from USC to City of Hope, so now the study is based at City of Hope. For this project, we have teams at three sites: City of Hope, the Cancer Prevention Institute of California (CPIC), and the University of California, Irvine. Participants will be invited by the study team that is closest to where they live.
Q: Why can't you tell me all of the tests that you plan to do on my blood or saliva sample?
A: We plan to collect these blood and saliva samples from 2012 to 2016. We are hopeful that in the future there will be new discoveries that we will want to test in these samples. The reason we cannot say all of the ways that these blood or saliva samples might be used in the future is that it is impossible to predict right now what all of those discoveries will be. Leaving this part of the project open-ended will enable us to include those future discoveries in the research that is conducted in the California Teachers Study.
Q: How is my information going to be used?
A: We use your name and phone number and address only when we want to contact you about the study. You and many other participants have provided great responses to the 5 mailed questionnaires we have sent you over the years. We use that information for statistical analyses that try to learn more about what causes cancer and other diseases, so that we can find better ways to prevent those diseases. We plan to use these new blood and saliva samples to look for new clues that can help to detect cancer earlier or predict who might be at higher or lower risk of developing important diseases that affect women.
Q: If you find something, will you let me know?
A: We will continue to send you annual newsletters that highlight the recent discoveries in the California Teachers Study. We post study updates and summaries of study findings on the CTS website. The new blood and saliva samples we will collect from you and thousands of other women in the study will be used for research tests. The results of those research tests may or may not have any effect on an individual person’s health or disease. These research tests are different from the types of tests that you may get at your doctor’s office. We hope that some of these research tests will one day lead to new tests that doctors could use.
Q: Will I get my results?
A: In general, we do not plan to tell you the results of the research tests that will be done on your blood or saliva sample. Testing these blood and saliva samples for research is different from the types of tests that occur during routine visits to the doctor. The main reason for this is that the tests we would perform on the blood and saliva samples are almost always preliminary or experimental. Another reason is that when we get the results, we combine the individual results into larger groups so that we can compare the differences between groups of participants, such as women with cancer vs. women without cancer. However, if there are new discoveries that would definitely affect your own health, then there are ways that we could share that information with you. As always, reports of our progress and new discoveries are posted on the CTS website.
Q: If I have questions, whom can I call?
A: You can contact the lead investigator for this new project. His name is Dr. James Lacey and his telephone number is (626) 256-HOPE (4673) X63837. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also contact the Principal Investigator for the California Teachers Study, Dr. Leslie Bernstein, at (626) 471-7316. You can visit our study website and find out all of the current and past findings.
Q: How do you keep your information about me safe and secure?
A: In every step of the California Teachers Study, we are taking steps to protect your privacy and confidentiality. First, we keep your identifying information—your name, your phone number, address, etc.—in locked cabinets and on secure computer servers. We keep that information separate from all of the numbers and data that we use to analyze data and write up our discoveries. We use that identifying information only for purposes of doing research in the California Teachers Study. We don’t sell or give away information about you.
When we collect the blood samples, we don’t put your name or identifying information anywhere on the samples. Instead, we use a special and unique identification number. That way, not even the laboratory scientists who are putting that blood sample in the freezer will know who that blood sample is from.
Q: Will this be anonymous?
A: Your name will not appear on any of your samples; samples are identified only by a special ID # so that the lab cannot tell which specimen came from you. The results of any laboratory tests on your specimens will be combined with the results of those tests on lots of other participants’ specimens so that we can compare results across different groups. When we publish our findings, we report all results in statistical forms that will never identify you in any way.
Questions About the Blood Collection
Q: Do I need to fast before the blood sample?
A: No, there is no need to fast for this blood collection.
Q: How long with the appointment take?
A: This appointment will take approximately 30 minutes of your time. You will be asked to read and sign an Informed Consent form. Then you will be asked a few questions about your current health status. Then 3 tubes of blood, which is equivalent to less than 2 tbsp, will be drawn.
Q: Can I meet with you on the weekend?
A: Right now we’re scheduling appointments Monday to Friday. The main reason for weekday appointments is to make sure that all of the blood samples can get to the laboratory within 24 hours of the time we collect your blood. Weekend appointments make it very difficult to get the blood samples to the lab on time.
Q: How early/late can you come?
A: We will be happy to try to work around your schedule. Let us know what works best for you and we will do our best to accommodate your schedule. We can start as early as you’d like in the morning.
Q: What if I am not feeling well?
A: If you are not feeling well, then please call us to reschedule for a time when you’re feeling better.
Q: Can I take my medications/antibiotics?
A: Yes, you can and should take your meds/antibiotics. We will ask about that in the brief interview.
Q: What are you doing with my blood?
A: We are going to send your 3 tubes of blood to Fisher Bioservices, which is a professional laboratory in Maryland. No one at the lab will know that the blood samples came from you, because all of the tubes will be labeled with only a study identification number. The first thing the lab is going to do is separate the blood into components—serum, plasma, and the red blood cells—and put it in the freezer for storage. The freezers we use are locked and secure, and no one except for us will know which samples are yours, so you can be sure we will do everything we can to protect the privacy & confidentiality of your blood samples.
Then we are going to use the blood samples from you and thousands of other participants for future research into what causes cancer and other diseases that affect women. That future research could include studies that try to identify why some women developed cancer and others did not. The research might look for clues in the blood that help to detect cancer earlier. Our hope is that this type of research will lead to new and better ways to prevent cancer and other conditions that affect women.
Q: How much blood are you going to draw?
A: We will be drawing 3 tubes of blood. This is approximately 27 ml, which is just less than 2 tablespoons.
Q: How many times do I have to give blood?
A: For this project, we will only ask you to give a blood sample once. We will ask you to donate a little bit of your time and a little bit of your blood. We will do everything we can to make your blood collection appointment as short as possible and as comfortable as possible.
Q: Is my blood going to be shared with other studies, outside of CTS?
A: The main reason we share data and samples with other researchers is that some questions can only be answered when many studies work together. For example, think of a very rare disease that only occurs in 1 out of 100,000 women: the only way to learn more about those rare diseases is to have many studies work together so that the results are valid and reliable. Whenever we share data or samples with other studies, we take extra precautions to protect your privacy and confidentiality. These are described in the Informed Consent form that we will review with you during your appointment.
At any point in the study, you can always call us and ask how your data and samples have been used, and we will be happy to answer your questions. In the future, we probably will conduct specific research projects that combine the results from tests on your blood or saliva sample with results from similar test on blood or saliva samples from participants in research studies, but we only do this if we think it is for a good scientific reason.
Questions About the Saliva Collection
Q: Why are some partipants being asked to give saliva and not blood?
A: Collecting blood requires an in-person visit from one of our study phlebotomists. Participants who live in areas that are too far from the study site for an in-person visit will be invited to give saliva.
Q: How do I collect this saliva sample?
A: To collect the saliva sample, you just gently spit a small amount of saliva into a tube that we provide for you. We will try to make it as easy as possible. We will mail you everything you need to collect the specimen, including a postage-paid, preaddressed envelope for sending the sample back to us.
Q: How many times will you be asking me to do this?
A: For this project, we will only ask you to provide one saliva sample.
Q: What will the saliva kit consist of?
A: It is a medium size, bulky, white envelope from the California Teachers Study. In it you will find the informed consent form, a Saliva Collection Kit, and a postage paid, pre-addressed padded envelope for mailing the saliva sample and signed consent form back to us.