University of Oxford
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Professor Valerie Beral directs the Cancer Epidemiology Unit (CEU) in Oxford. Her team is looking at how a woman's lifestyle, including her reproductive and family history, can influence her health and whether she is likely to develop breast cancer.
The CEU coordinates two of the largest cohort studies of breast cancer in the world - the Million Women Study and the Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer.
The Million Women Study
Since opening in 1997, the Million Women Study has recruited more than 1.3 million UK women over 50 via the NHS breast screening centres. The study is investigating how a woman's reproductive history (for example, how many children she has, when she has them, and whether she uses hormone-based treatments such as the Pill), can affect women's health, with a particular focus on the effects of hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
An incredible 1 in 4 of UK women in the target age group are participating, making it the largest such study in the world.
In August 2003 Professor Beral's group published landmark results. They showed that taking HRT increases a woman's risk of developing breast cancer, and that an estimated 20,000 UK women aged 50-64 may have developed the disease between 1993 and 2003 due to HRT use.
The study showed that risk increases the longer a woman uses HRT, but drops to the normal level within 5 years after stopping use.
The Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer
This group brings together worldwide data on more than 360,000 women. Around 200 researchers across 30 different countries are sharing evidence on the role of hormones, reproduction and other factors on the risk of this disease. The data includes information on oral contraceptive and HRT use, family history of the disease, breastfeeding rates and alcohol consumption.
It is the most extensive study of its kind in the world.
So far, the Group's results have highlighted how breast cancer risk is lower in the developing world because of more women breastfeeding for longer, and larger family sizes. The study has also shown that a woman's risk of breast cancer is strongly increased by having first-degree relatives with a history of the disease. The younger these relatives are when they develop breast cancer the greater the risk.
Through analysing such large studies combining worldwide research into the disease, Professor Beral's team hopes to identify trends in incidence and causes, and ultimately translate this knowledge into ways to both treat and prevent the disease.
In January 2010 Professor Beral received the Dames Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for services to science.