BY SHAWN MACINNES
Photo credit: BC Cancer Foundation
Dr. Parveen Bhatti is an epidemiologist whose international research program focuses on using molecular markers to improve understanding of risk factors for cancer and identify potential targets for intervention. Research interests include nightshift work and cancer, epigenetic and metabolomic mediators of cancer risk, and children’s environmental health.
What is cancer prevention?
Our goal as cancer researchers is always to find ways to stop cancer from developing in the first place. To do this, we need to know what factors, whether genetic or environmental, lead to cancer development.
Cancer prevention research focuses on population-based studies, including recruiting volunteer participants and collecting bio-data such as health information, environmental exposures, lifestyle, blood samples, etc. We do this with an overarching goal of understanding the risk factors of getting cancer in day-to-day life. These risk factors can be environmental, occupational, or lifestyle, and once these factors are identified, researchers look at what modifications can be made to lessen cancer risk.
While treatment is vital in extending lifespans and improving quality of life, prevention seeks to stop people from getting cancer in the first place.
The hope is that with the answers we seek through our research, the new policy can be put in place to remove risk, as well as allow us to continue to provide more recommendations for British Columbians to make positive changes to improve their health,
Melatonin suppression may lead to higher cancer risk.
Dr. Bhatti’s primary research for the last decade has investigated night shift work and its connection to cancer. Studies have shown people who work nights have a higher risk of cancer. His research aims to understand why this happens and how to prevent it.
Melatonin suppression is thought to lead to higher risks of cancer. At night, we get a big surge of melatonin, which is critical to many biological systems. As soon as we perceive any sort of light exposure, melatonin production is shut down. Dr. Bhatti’s work has found that because night shift workers aren’t producing enough melatonin, higher DNA damage levels are a significant cause of cancer. The next step is to test whether giving night shift workers melatonin supplements can counter these effects. Dr. Bhatti is currently in the process of recruiting night shift workers for this study.
While this research moves forward, Dr. Bhatti encourages night shift workers to adhere to general recommendations around diet and exercise, as they’re able to. These considerations can be a challenge for those who work night shifts but are worth prioritizing.
Paving the way forward
Dr. Bhatti’s team is excited about the future of cancer prevention research with the advent of new technologies, including new tests and systems that can be applied to analyze data at a deeper level.
“There are things that our team can do now that weren’t possible decades ago, and I’m excited to take it in new directions,” says Dr. Bhatti.
The team is also inspired by the BC Generations Project. Dr. Bhatti is Scientific Director – a cohort of about 30,000 people in BC who provided extensively detailed questionnaire data for research purposes, including medical data like height, weight, lung function, body fat content, and bone density. This rich resource was collected in 2006 and maturing now, allowing the team to dig into the data and ask questions about lifestyle and genetic factors linked to increased cancer rates in BC and beyond.
Support cancer prevention research
Cancer is relentless. However, so are BC Cancer experts.
Community plays a vital role in progress. Donors help drive prevention research at BC Cancer so we can change outcomes and save more lives. With you, we won’t stop.
To learn more, please contact Becky Yost at firstname.lastname@example.org