By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer
A Cincinnati research team is seeking a federal grant to become one of three centers nationwide trying to identify possible environmental causes of breast cancer.
The team, formed by the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, calls its project "Growing Up Female."
The project would focus on how environmental factors interact with genetics as young women grow through puberty. A better understanding of this mix of factors could help explain why some women become more likely than others to develop breast cancer later in life.
"We're very excited about this. We have been lobbying in Washington, D.C., for Congress to fund these centers," said Ann Hernick, president of the Breast Cancer Alliance of Greater Cincinnati. "So it is very exciting to see our local researchers applying for these funds."
As many as 60 percent of breast cancer cases have links to known risk factors - such as family history of the disease, the presence of BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genetic mutations or long-term use of hormone replacement therapy. But there are no clear explanations for up to 40 percent of breast cancer cases, says Dr. Frank Biro, a researcher with Children's.
"We have proposed a series of projects related to this. The idea is ... can we help account for some of these other things to identify other groups of women who may be at risk?" Biro said.
Nationwide, more than 212,000 people, including 1,300 men, are expected to develop breast cancer. While five-year survival rates are 88 percent for white women and 73 percent for black women, breast cancer is expected to claim more than 40,000 lives this year, according to the American Cancer Society.
In this kind of study, the "environmental" factors to be considered go beyond possible links to pollution, Biro said. It also would include the impact of high-fat diets, alcohol consumption, medications for other health concerns, even home conditions.
In addition to Biro, the research team would include Drs. Sue Heffelfinger, Robert Bornschein and Kathryn Brown. The funding would come from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences.
While the research focus would be to identify risk factors, some of the work is likely to seek out protective factors that would help women avoid breast cancer.
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