Multiethnic Cohort (MEC) Study makes 25 years

The Multiethnic Cohort (MEC) Study Celebrates 25 Years

September 14, 2018

HONOLULU – The University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center proudly celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Multiethnic Cohort Study (MEC Study). The MEC Study is the most ethnically diverse epidemiologic study in the world that investigates the roles of lifestyle, diet and genetics in cancer and other chronic diseases.

“The MEC Study is being conducted to understand the differences in risk that exist for cancer and other chronic diseases among the main ethnic/racial groups living in Hawaiʻi and California,” said Loïc Le Marchand, MD, PhD, UH Cancer Center epidemiologist and principal investigator of the study.

The MEC Study, which started in 1993, follows a group of individuals over time to see how the cohort members who develop cancer or other conditions differed in various risk factors several years before diagnosis. At the start of the study, over 215,000 Hawaiʻi and Los Angeles residents, aged 45 to 75, were recruited when they completed a 26-page questionnaire about their dietary habits and lifestyle, as well as their medical history. Information about the participants is updated through follow-up questionnaires sent every five years. The cohort is comprised of men and women primarily of Japanese, Native Hawaiian, African American, Latino and Caucasian origin.

Guests attend the MEC Study celebration at the UH Cancer Center
Guests attend the MEC Study celebration at the
UH Cancer Center

“After all these years, over 70 percent of all cohort members still fill out their questionnaires, demonstrating the participants’ exceptionally high level of commitment to the study,” said Le Marchand.

Biological specimens from cohort members (mainly blood and urine samples) were collected mostly in 2001-2006. Samples on more than 70,000 cohort participants are being stored in special low temperature freezers in Hawaiʻi and California. “Dozens of investigators and close to a hundred trainees have used MEC study data and samples for their research,” said Lynne Wilkens, DrPH, UH Cancer Center biostatistician and Co-Principal Investigator of the study.

“For 25 years now the MEC Study has continued to fulfill its mission to make a significant contribution to the goal of correcting cancer health disparities and preventing cancer and other chronic diseases in all populations,” said Randall Holcombe, MD, MBA, UH Cancer Center director. “We are proud to lead a study with such significant impact at the UH Cancer Center. The MEC study has gained national and international recognition among biomedical scientists, and is an example of the world-class research conducted at the University of Hawaiʻi.”

The MEC Study has brought more than $150 million in federal research funding to the University of Hawaiʻi. It has been funded since 1993 by the National Cancer Institute and is jointly conducted by the UH Cancer Center and the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles.

Dr. Le Marchand, one of the Principal Investigators, is giving an introductory speech for the attendees
Dr. Le Marchand, one of the MEC Principal Investigators,
is giving an introductory speech for the attendees

The MEC Study data has resulted in more than 600 published scientific articles on topics including smoking, diet, alcohol, coffee, meat cooking methods, physical activity, hormones, reproductive factors, genetics, inflammation, infections, sleep, air pollution, gut microbes, obesity and diabetes.


  1. Coffee may help you live longer
  2. Diet relates to lower risk of colorectal cancer
  3. Smokers with newly discovered genetic markers have higher lung cancer risk
  4. Smoking increases the risk of breast cancer
  5. Alcohol consumption, even in low amount, increases breast cancer risk
  6. Risk of cancers due to obesity varies among ethnic groups
  7. The increase in lung cancer risk due to smoking is greater in Native Hawaiians and African Americans, compared to other ethnic

Listen to the MEC Study interview on Hawaiʻi Public Radio, The Conversation

Visit the Multiethnic Cohort (MEC) Study pages for more information.