UNC Scientists to Study Pregnancy, Obesity and Breast Cancer Disparities

CHAPEL HILL, NC - UNC scientists have received a five-year $2.2 million grant to study how factors such as pregnancy and obesity may promote susceptibility to an aggressive subtype of breast cancer that is more prevalent in young, African American patients. The grant is funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Breast Cancer and Environment Research Program.

Melissa Troester, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, and Liza Makowski, PhD, assistant professor of nutrition in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, are the principal investigators. Both are members of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Data have shown that a full-term pregnancy reduces the risk for breast cancer overall, but recent studies have shown that pregnancy may actually increase the risk of an aggressive subtype of breast cancer called basal-like. UNC researchers have previously shown that basal-like breast cancer is more prevalent among premenopausal African American patients. Better understanding of the relation between pregnancy, obesity and basal-like cancer is needed to support prevention strategies.

In the lab, the team hopes to identify molecular pathways and biomarkers that are regulated by pregnancy and obesity and that also promote basal-like tumors. As part of the study, a community advisory board is being formed to share scientific findings and solicit input from breast cancer survivors, caregivers, nutritionists, dieticians and advocates.

Other UNC Lineberger collaborators are Keith Amos, MD, assistant professor of surgery, and Charles Perou, PhD, professor of genetics and pathology and laboratory medicine. Staff from the NIEHS Center of Environmental Health and Susceptibility and its Community Outreach Education Core program will facilitate community outreach.

UNC School of Public Health contact:
Ramona DuBose An icon indicating that a link will launch an email program. or (919) 966-7467