Thursday, October 16, 2003

UC breast cancer researchers to explore nongenetic causes

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The University of Cincinnati will be among four research centers nationwide to share a seven-year, $35 million federal grant to identify possible environmental causes of breast cancer.

The UC team calls its project "Growing Up Female." The project will receive $9.6 million, or about $1.4 million a year.

Grants also were awarded to Michigan State University, the University of California-San Francisco and the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.

"We need to better understand the elusive environmental piece of the breast cancer puzzle," said Dr. Elias Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health. "If we can understand the early events that can set the stage for breast cancer, we can do more to prevent this disease."

Nationwide, more than 212,000 people, including 1,300 men, are expected to develop breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Meanwhile, more than 40,000 will die from the disease, making breast cancer the second leading cause of cancer death for women, after lung cancer.

While some causes for breast cancer are known - such as having a family history of the disease or long-term use of hormone replacement therapy - many cases are not easily explained.

In Cincinnati, experts will look in more detail at the role puberty plays in breast cancer risk later in life.

In June, a study by Dr. Frank Biro of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center reported that the way puberty begins for young girls appears to predict their chances of becoming obese and their odds of developing breast cancer.

Girls who start developing breasts before developing pubic hair are at greater risk because they tend to have higher amounts of body fat and body-mass index scores, and start menstruating at earlier ages, according to Biro.

The next step is to study what factors influence the early onset of puberty. Cincinnati researchers will look at dietary factors in studies of mice and by tracking children. Other centers will look at other potential environmental factors.


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