Breast cancer is second largest killer of women in the United States. Although 77% of breast cancer cases are in women over 50 according to the National Cancer Institute, women who have breast cancer at a younger age are generally at greater risk.
"In younger women tumors are generally more aggressive," said Ellen Velie, associate professor of epidemiology at MSU.
That's why Professor Velie's latest study is focusing on risk factors among younger women. Although some research has been done in this area before, many studies have mixed older and younger women. Professor Velie says more needs to be known about risk factors in younger women because they can be different than those in older women.
"A lof of the same risk factors that affect older women affect younger women but not all," said Velie.
The study recently received $14 million funding from the National Institutes of Health. 2,000 women under 50 diagnosed with breast cancer and 2,000 women without breast cancer will be studied over the next five years. They will have their family history, body measurements and type of tumor recorded. Researchers will also look at childhood photos to identify trends and patterns at younger ages that may increase breast cancer risk. Saliva and blood tests will also be conducted.
"We hypothesize differences in nutrition, physical activity and child-bearing practices would make the biggest difference in breast cancer rates," said Velie.
The study will look at women in Los Angeles and Detroit.
Dr. Karl Olson is a co-investigator on the study and an associate professor of physiology. He says that excess belly fat is linked to breast cancer in post-menopausal women and likely has a similar relationship in younger women. Because of that Dr. Olson says reducing breast cancer risk can take some steps.
"One should watch what they eat and follow physical and nutritional guidelines," said Olson.
Prof. Velie's study could have major implications as far as preventing breast cancer starting at a younger age.
"If we understood what causes breast cancer in younger women we could make better guidelines for nutrition and physical activity earlier on," said Velie.