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The Multiethnic Cohort Study


Our research will help us gain a better understanding of the causes of cancer and how to prevent it in the future.

About The Multiethnic Cohort Study

The Multiethnic Cohort Study of Diet and Cancer (MEC) was funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in 1993. It is one of the largest studies of its kind, and certainly the most ethnically diverse. 

The MEC is being conducted at the University of Hawai'i Cancer Center, in Honolulu, HI, and the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, CA. 

The cohort is comprised of more than 215,000 men and women primarily of African American, Japanese, Latino, Native Hawaiian and Caucasian origin. The ethnic diversity of Hawai`i and California made it possible to develop this large study with its unique representation of minority populations.


The MEC Study was established to examine lifestyle risk factors, especially diet and nutrition, as well as genetic susceptibility (an inherited tendency to react more strongly to particular exposures) in relation to the causation of cancer.

How the Cohort was Established

Every cohort member completed a specially designed, self-administered 26-page baseline questionnaire at entry to the MEC Study (1993-1996). The questionnaire included an extensive quantitative diet history and background information as well as medical, medication, tobacco use, physical activity and female reproductive histories.


Persons in the cohort who develop cancer are identified through cancer registries that have been established by state statute in Hawai`i and California to monitor the progress of the disease and public health efforts to control it.

In addition to the baseline questionnaire, four other questionnaires were mailed to MEC participants to get additional information. A 4-page questionnaire was sent in 1999-2001, 2010-2012 and will be sent in 2014-2017. A repeat of the 26-page baseline questionnaire was sent in 2003-2008.

Biological specimens (mainly blood and urine samples) were collected from selected members of the cohort, starting in 1996, but the main collection took place from 2001-2006. These specimens enable us to study dietary components measured in blood and urine in relation to cancer risk, and also the interaction between genetic susceptibility and diet. Biological specimens on more than 70,000 cohort participants are being stored in special low temperature freezers in Hawai`i and California.

Our Vision

Over the next several years, MEC investigators will be testing many hypotheses related to diet and other factors in order to determine why different ethnic groups have different risks of developing cancer and other chronic diseases.

Mission Statement

Our mission is to make a significant contribution to the goal of preventing cancer and other chronic diseases in the populations of the U.S. and the rest of the world.