James Shepherd would seem to be the ideal candidate for the nation's largest prostate cancer prevention study.
As a black man in his late 60s or early 70s (he'd rather not say which), he is at increased risk both of getting prostate cancer and of dying from it.
He would be ideal for the study of whether certain supplements can prevent the cancer, except for one small drawback - he can't stomach vitamins.
"It just doesn't work with me; it just makes me sick," he said.
Plenty of other men, however, might be attracted to the SELECT study, which will follow 32,400 men for five years nationwide as they take selenium, vitamin E, a combination of the two, or a placebo.
Informational meetings about the study will be held next week in Burke, Aiken and Richmond counties. Augusta Oncology Associates and Medical Oncology Associates are teaming up to sponsor the Augusta arm of the study through a partnership with a group in Spartanburg, S.C.
"We're involved a lot in the treatment end, but our general feeling is that the biggest bang for the buck is going to come from prevention," said Mark Keaton, who will serve as the principal investigator for Augusta.
And there are some preliminary studies that it could be effective, said Martha Terris, a professor of urology at the Medical College of Georgia, who worked with the study when she was at Stanford University. One study showed that men who took selenium supplements cut their risk of prostate cancer while another showed that there were 40 percent fewer cases of the cancer among those on vitamin E.
"It's not like a lot of the nutritional therapies, which really don't have a lot of science to back them up," said Dr. Terris, who is a urologist at the Augusta Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers.
Selenium is needed for a certain enzyme to help the cell repair DNA damage, Dr. Terris said. Vitamin E is an antioxidant, which can help clear the body of cell-damaging free radicals.
It is a relatively low-risk study for the subjects, Dr. Keaton said.
"Selenium and vitamin E are relatively nontoxic, and they're also not very expensive, so those would make obviously ideal prevention agents," he said.
The study is attractive in its simplicity and potential impact, Dr. Terris said.
"It's interesting to think that you can take vitamins and prevent yourself from getting a cancer," she said. "It's so easy, and it's such a common cancer, that it would be amazing if that were true."
Something about that does appeal to Mr. Shepherd, who last year had a negative blood test for prostate cancer and plans to have another one next month.
"When I get to 80, I'll start" taking vitamins, he joked.
Whenever that may be.
Hourlong meetings to provide more information on participating in a prostate cancer prevention trial will be held next week. To register, call toll-free (800) 879-7432.
TUESDAY: Burke County Office Park Auditorium, Waynesboro, 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
WEDNESDAY: H. Odell Weeks Activity Center, Aiken, 10 a.m., noon, and 4 p.m.
THURSDAY: University Hospital Auditorium, Augusta, 9 a.m., 11 a.m., and 2 p.m.
WHO IS ELIGIBLE
The SELECT study will follow men for five years who are taking supplements of selenium, vitamin E, both, or a placebo.
The study is open to men:
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.