Why do some people never get cancer? Innovative Canadian Cancer Society study of Quebec and other provinces “super seniors" aims to find out.

12 March 2015

Montreal -

He’s 106, but Dr Robert Wiener isn’t ready to slow down. He’s on his exercise bike every day, and does 2 exercise classes a week, plus yoga and tai chi. A retired oral surgeon and the oldest resident in his Montreal retirement home, he says his secret to a long, healthy life is a combination of good genes and a healthy lifestyle. “Laughter is the best medicine,” he says. “Exercise a lot, eat properly and don’t stop at the pub too often.”

Dr Wiener is one of 500 super seniors taking part in a new research study funded by the Canadian Cancer Society to determine why some people live cancer-free into their 80s, 90s and beyond 100. In December 2014, the Canadian Cancer Society reached out to Canadians to join together and raise $200,000 to establish a high-risk, high-reward, cancer research project. Almost $65,000 of the money raised came from Quebec. The super senior research project was named as the Canadian Cancer Society’s first Great Canadian Innovation Grant.

About the super seniors project

Dr Angela Brooks-Wilson of the BC Cancer Agency and Simon Fraser University and her team already have gathered detailed information from 500 healthy people aged 85 to 109. The seniors provided medical, family and lifestyle information, as well as a blood sample, and were tested for physical and mental function. She and co-leader Dr Denise Daley, of St. Paul’s Hospital and UBC, will now compare the genes of the super seniors to those of more than 100,000 people, some who have cancer and some who don’t.

Studies have shown that many people who live to an incredibly healthy old age actually do have gene sequences that contribute to cancer in the general population, but for some reason they do not develop the disease. Scientists suspect there is something that protects them from getting sick by overriding the cancer-causing genes.

The study is still accepting new super seniors. Quebecers aged 85 or older and who have never been diagnosed with cancer, cardiovascular disease or stroke, dementia, major lung disease or diabetes, are welcomed to participate in the research study. Anyone over 100, can register regardless of their health. Visit the Canadian Cancer Society’s website here for details.

"There is evidence from other studies that lifestyle behaviours, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet, low alcohol intake and getting regular exercise, play a huge role in not getting cancer, but we suspect some Quebecers are genetically protected from cancer-causing mutations. The ultimate goal of the Canadian Cancer Society’s super seniors research project is to identify possible genetic “override switches,” which could eventually lead to the development of anti-cancer drugs. It's possible that such drugs, combined with a healthy lifestyle, could help other people to have a lower risk of getting cancer", says Sylvie Poissant, Public Affairs Director, CCS – Quebec Division.

About Canadian Cancer Society Innovation Grants

As competition for grant funding increases, expert-review panels become more conservative and risk averse, emphasizing feasibility more than innovation. The goal of the Innovation grants program is to support unconventional concepts or approaches to address important problems in cancer. Successful projects may be based on high risk ideas, but will have the potential for high reward (i.e. to significantly increase our understanding of cancer and generate new approaches to combat the disease by introducing novel ideas into use or practice). Learn more about the Innovation grants here.

Every day, the Canadian Cancer Society works to save more lives. With the support of thousands of Quebecers, donors and volunteers, we fight to prevent more cancers, enable our researchers to make more discoveries and help more people touched by the disease. Let’s save more lives. Visit cancer.ca or call us at 1 888 939-3333.

For more information, please contact:

André Beaulieu

Spokesperson and Senior Advisor, Public Relations

Canadian Cancer Society

Quebec Division

Phone: (514) 393-3444