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Jeanne Hopkins Lucas Study Focuses on Breast Cancer Risk Factors

"It's clear that breast cancer is not just one disease, but a group of related though biologically distinct diseases,"says Dr. Lisa Carey, Preyer Distinguished Professor of Breast Cancer Research and medical director of the UNC Breast Center.

Jeanne Hopkins Lucas"It's clear that breast cancer is not just one disease, but a group of related though biologically distinct diseases,"says Dr. Lisa Carey, Preyer Distinguished Professor of Breast Cancer Research and medical director of the UNC Breast Center. "So it doesn't make sense to ask 'what causes breast cancer?' We should rather ask 'what causes the different types of breast cancer?' "

That's the purpose of The Carolina Breast Cancer Study III (CBCSIII), part of an ongoing population-based case-control study of incident breast cancer in North Carolina. "One of the more aggressive forms of breast cancer is called the basal-like subtype, which is insensitive to our targeted therapies," Carey explains. "Fortunately it is sensitive to chemotherapy." The basal-like subtype makes up more than 35 percent of breast cancers in younger African-American women, compared with only about 15 percent in other women. The CBCSIII aims to understand why.

"If we can identify underlying causes of breast cancer, we can determine ways to prevent it from occurring in the first place," says Bob Millikan, professor of epidemiology and principal investigator of the study. "And if women do get breast cancer, we can offer more effective treatments that target their particular type of cancer. Both of these efforts together will lower the death rate."

Funds from the UCRF will enable CBCSIII researchers to more than double the number of African-American women in the study. This will help investigators understand how specific factors such as breastfeeding and physical activity could be modified to lower a woman's risk of breast cancer.

The CBCSIII is also known as the Jeanne Hopkins Lucas study in honor of the first African-American woman senator in North Carolina, who was a leading force for public education in our state, and died last year from breast cancer. Jeanne Hopkins Lucas was a strong voice for cancer programs at UNC and throughout North Carolina as well as a determined breast cancer advocate. CBCSIII is a continuation of the Carolina Breast Cancer Study I and II, which began in 1993 and culminated in 2001 and investigated the causes of breast cancer in black and white women in North Carolina. Today it is one of the largest African-American breast cancer databases in the United States.

"The Jeanne Hopkins Lucas study depends upon the cooperation and efforts of dozens of hospitals, physicians, nurses and women throughout the state," Millikan notes. "It is truly be a statewide effort, with benefits for all women in North Carolina." The study opened in June 2008.