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Research Underway Using OHS Data

Diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes are the primary causes of death in Canadian adults and treating these and other illnesses costs the Canadian health care system billions of dollars annually. The researchers using Ontario Health Study data are investigating factors that increase the risk of developing various diseases, as well as what can be done to reduce the chance of developing them. These risk factors may include where people live and work, what they eat, how much they exercise, whether they smoke and other factors that have not yet been identified.

CanPath Webinar: Trainee Research: Using Population Cohorts to Enable Early Cancer Detection

Jun 16, 2022

Nicholas Cheng provides an overview of his study on identifying early cancer biomarkers in pre-diagnosis blood samples collected from more than 400 OHS participants. He demonstrates how blood signatures can be used to detect breast, prostate and pancreatic cancers years prior to clinical detection using cfDNA methylation profiles.

Kimberly Skead describes her work studying how the interacting evolutionary pressures acting on somatic mutations in blood can be used to predict progression to blood cancer in large population cohorts such as the European Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study and the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow’s Health project (including more than 7,000 OHS samples).

Cheng and Skead are doctoral candidates in the Department of Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto and the Ontario Institute for Cancer research.


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CanPath Webinar: Using population cohorts to support COVID-19 research

Aug 27, 2020

Dr. Philip Awadalla, (National Scientific Director, CanPath; Executive Scientific Director, Ontario Health Study) discusses how data from large population health cohorts like CanPath can be harnessed to support research into COVID-19 such as the socioeconomic and mental health impact, as well as disease severity, infection rates, and mapping of where people are most likely to be tested or effected.


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What’s behind a cancer diagnosis in women under 50? Researcher looks to OHS data for clues

Feb 3, 2020

A University of Calgary epidemiologist is using data from Ontario Health Study (OHS) participants to explore how environmental or lifestyle factors could be associated with breast cancer in younger women.

Dr. Darren Brenner recently gained approval to study the de-identified data for female participants who were ages 35 to 50 and cancer-free at the time they joined the OHS. Questionnaire data from the OHS will be combined with Ontario Cancer Registry data to focus his work on those who have subsequently had a cancer diagnosis since joining the OHS.

Comparatively little is known about the risk factors for young-onset breast cancer, Brenner noted in his application to use OHS data. Inherited genetic mutations play a role, but generally only account for 5% to 10% of young-onset cases, suggesting lifestyle or environmental factors may contribute to the development of breast cancer in younger women. The role of obesity needs further study, he noted, as recent studies suggested a decreased risk for breast cancer in younger women with obesity.

Younger women diagnosed with breast cancer tend to have poorer survival rates because they are not routinely screened, and so tend to have an already-advanced stage of cancer once they are diagnosed.

Breast cancer remains the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Canadian women. Though the number of cancer diagnoses in older women has gone down over the last 25 years, the number of women under age 50 who receive a breast cancer diagnosis has increased. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, breast cancer accounts for 23% of diagnosed cancers in Canadians aged 30 to 49[1]. On a positive note, female breast cancer death rates have decreased an estimated 48% since they peaked in 1986[2].

In addition to using questionnaire data and blood samples from OHS participants, Dr. Brenner is also pulling similar data about British Columbian and Albertan women, through the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project, Canada’s largest population cohort study.

Dr. Brenner and his team will examine the impact of lifestyle, environmental, and reproductive factors, family and medical history, as well as breast cancer screening protocols, on the risk for breast cancer in women under 50.

Results from their investigation could improve researchers’ understanding of young-onset breast cancer causes and could lead to improved prevention strategies.

Read more about Dr. Brenner and his other research projects in this article: ‘Research Rockstar’

[1] Canadian Cancer Statistics 2019 p. 14

[2] Canadian Cancer Statistics 2019 p. 7


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