Predicting breast cancer risk for individuals is presently imprecise and is a major dilemma for both clinicians and patients. Breast cancer results from the combined effects of lifestyle, environmental exposures and inherited susceptibility, but the effects of risk factors are not simple. Risk factors such as obesity and age at first pregnancy have been demonstrated in both human populations and in animal models. Among postmenopausal women, obesity is clearly linked to higher likelihood of developing breast cancer. However, the relationship is less clear prior to menopause and, in adolescent girls, being overweight has been linked to reduced risk. A full term pregnancy early in life is associated with a short-term increase in the incidence of breast cancer but reduces lifetime risk by up to one half. Similarly, aggressive therapy can be life-saving for some women but unnecessary for others. Understanding the basis for the diversity of breast cancers and developing personalized approaches for both prevention and treatment of breast cancer are critical gaps.
The Rays of Hope Center for Breast Cancer Research was established in 2011 supported by a $1.5M grant from the Rays of Hope, a Springfield-based charity representing Western Massachusetts . The Center brings together scientists with diverse expertise perfectly suited to study the complexity posed by breast cancer and who are deeply committed to harnessing research to dramatically reduce the impact of breast cancer. Work supported by the Center emphasizes a deeper mechanistic understanding of how obesity, diabetes and environmental exposures interact to alter breast cancer risk and prognosis.