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Breast Cancer Prevention: an Area of Focus for BCRF Researchers

By BCRF | December 14, 2016

Since 2001, BCRF investigators have been investigating how to understand the influence of lifestyle on breast cancer risk

Each year 250,000 women and 2,000 men hear the words, “You have breast cancer.” While the underlying causes of sporadic (not genetic) breast cancer are complex and poorly understood, experts estimate that at least half of cancer cases can be prevented through lifestyle choices and risk-reduction strategies.

Healthy lifestyles choices throughout life may reduce breast cancer risk.

Few people realize that that the same recommendations for prevention of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes (healthy weight, diet and exercise) can also reduce the risk of cancer, including some breast cancers.  Even someone with a higher than average breast cancer risk due to family history can lower his/her overall risk with healthy lifestyle choices and preventive strategies. 

“Up to 68% of breast cancer could potentially be prevented by efforts that begin in childhood and adolescence.” – Graham Colditz – BCRF Investigator since 2004

BCRF has been investing in research to understand the influence of lifestyle on breast cancer risk and outcomes since 2001, totaling more than $32 million. This includes 17 research grants in 2016 totaling nearly $4 million supporting prevention research aimed at understanding:

  • how early life exposures affect normal adolescent growth and how these changes influence adult risk of breast cancer.
  • how diet and exercise influence breast cancer risk and outcomes
  • the molecular changes induced by obesity to promote breast cancer development, progression and metastasis and develop new strategies to identify those at risk and effective preventive interventions.

Early detection can help save lives: Biomarkers can provide early clues of risk

When diagnosed early, many breast cancers can be treated successfully. The five-year survival rate for early stage breast cancer (Stage 0-1) is nearly 100 percent. However, metastatic breast cancer and cancer that returns years later – even 20 years after initial diagnosis and treatment – remains a serious clinical concern. Understanding the biology of tumor cell spread and dormancy is a key component in developing biomarkers to predict those at high risk of recurrence and in developing treatments in this setting as well.

For many high-risk women, long-term chemo-prevention with anti-estrogen therapies can dramatically reduce the risk of recurrence.  Long-term clinical trials are ongoing to determine the optimal duration of anti-estrogen therapies for maximum prevention.

BCRF is supporting these and other studies aimed at preventing recurrence by:

  • testing novel approaches to improve risk stratification for both women with and without breast cancer
  • developing promising interventions for breast cancer prevention using biomarkers in blood or in normal breast tissue
  • conducting clinical trials in chemoprevention in high-risk women
  • devising novel immunotherapy combinations that are both more effective at treating cancer, and may reduce the risk of recurrence by creating an immune-memory of the tumor.

To read more about the work of BCRF investigators studying, go to Our Researchers page and search under Prevention & Lifestyle.