Ambitious decades-long investigation into the causes of breast cancer aims to recruit 100,000 women

Details of a unique, ambitious and decades-long investigation into the causes of breast cancer - The Breakthrough Generations Study - were revealed today by Breakthrough Breast Cancer, the UK's leading breast cancer charity, and The Institute of Cancer Research, one of the world's leading cancer research organisations.

Currently, around 40,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year and around 13,000 women - 35 women per day - die from this disease in the UK. In addition, rates of occurrence of breast cancer in the UK have been rising for many years.

However, scientists believe that around half of these cases - at least twenty thousand a year - could, in principle, be prevented, if the causes of breast cancer were better understood.

The Breakthrough Generations Study aims to make this a reality by carrying out a unique, dedicated examination of the genetic, environmental, behavioural and hormonal factors thought to influence the risk of developing what is the UK's most common cancer in women.

Spanning nearly half a century, the study aims to enrol more than 100,000 UK women aged 18 and over from all walks of life to join the study. Any woman living in Britain can take part.

Each woman will be asked to fill in a questionnaire about themselves and their lifestyles and give a blood sample. The study will then keep in touch with them about their health and collect further information from them in the years to come, in order to relate future cancer risks to changes in lifestyle and to events occurring throughout a woman's life. The study aims to provide the most detailed information yet on what causes breast cancer and as a result, give an understanding of how the disease can be prevented in the first place.

Known as a cohort study, this type of study has given the main evidence for most of the causes of cancer we know, such as smoking and lung cancer, and asbestos and cancer of the pleura (lining of the lung).

Famous mothers and daughters including actresses Michelle Collins, Meera Syal, Angela Griffin, Jill Halfpenny, Pam St Clements; Michelle Ryan; British soprano Lesley Garrett, BBC newsreaders Fiona Bruce and Katie Derham; and TV presenters Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, Gail Porter, Jayne Middlemiss, Lowri Turner and Jenni Falconer are backing the study.

Actress, Michelle Collins, says: "News of The Breakthrough Generations Study is extremely exciting. As a woman and mother to Mia, I worry about breast cancer - not only for myself, but also for my family and friends. By taking part in the study we can do something really positive and move one step closer to finding out exactly what causes breast cancer - and eventually how we can stop it happening in the first place. That would be an amazing achievement."

Enid Bond, aged 70, a Breakthrough Generations Study participant, says: "Taking part in The Breakthrough Generations Study is important to me - to get closer to answering the many questions I have about the disease and to help my daughter and grand daughter understand what they could do to stop breast cancer affecting them in the future."

A unique study, The Breakthrough Generations Study, will be led by two of the country's leading medical scientists - Professor Anthony Swerdlow, Head of Epidemiology at The Institute of Cancer Research, and breast cancer expert Professor Alan Ashworth, Director of the Breakthrough Toby Robins Breast Cancer Research Centre at The Institute.

Professor Swerdlow says: "Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in this country and sadly it leads to many thousands of deaths each year. It is important that we find its causes so that future cases can be prevented. The causation of breast cancer is complicated, however, and to help to unravel these complexities the study will therefore need to include very large numbers of women and to continue over many years."

Professor Ashworth adds: "There have been real improvements in breast cancer treatment and diagnosis over the last decade but what's absolutely vital for the future is to prevent the disease occurring in the first place. To do this we first need to pinpoint and understand the causes of breast cancer - an area of research that has not received enough attention to date."

"Within a few years, we can expect the first results of the study to emerge, giving us a unique insight into the causes of breast cancer and, eventually, allowing us to work out methods to prevent it occurring in the first place."

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, says: "Women tell Breakthrough that breast cancer is their number one health concern and yet we still can't tell women what they desperately want to know - how they, their mothers, sisters, daughters and grand daughters can reduce their chances of developing this devastating disease.

"Breakthrough's vision is a future free from the fear of breast cancer and I hope that by signing up to join the study, I am doing my bit to help make this vision a reality for future generations."

Professor Peter Rigby, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, said: "We are delighted to be a partner in this exciting study. We are confident that this partnership will lead to our scientists knowing much more about what causes breast cancer which will help us to prevent many women from suffering from this terrible disease."

This unique study into the causes of breast cancer keeps Breakthrough and The Institute of Cancer Research at the forefront of research into the disease, and will complement the work already underway at The Breakthrough Toby Robins Breast Cancer Research Centre - the UK's first dedicated breast cancer research facility, based at The Institute of Cancer Research.

Women aged 18 and over from any background living in Britain who are interested in taking part in The Breakthrough Generations Study can visit www.breakthroughgenerations.org.uk or telephone 0870 242 4485 to request further information.

For more information about Breakthrough, breast cancer or to make a donation, visit www.breakthrough.org.uk or call 08 080 100 200. For more information about The Institute visit www.icr.ac.uk or call 0800 731 9468.

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The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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