October 24, 2014

Scrolling Headlines:

Michael Kimmel speaks to UMass students about ‘Guyland’ -

Thursday, October 23, 2014

UMass football looks for third straight win against Toledo on Saturday -

Thursday, October 23, 2014

‘Love is Strange’ is beautiful, painful and groundbreaking -

Thursday, October 23, 2014

White supremacy and settler colonialism at UMass -

Thursday, October 23, 2014

UMass hockey hopes first win will propel them past Hockey East rivals -

Thursday, October 23, 2014

UMass’ second line playing and succeeding with young talent early in the season. -

Thursday, October 23, 2014

‘The Good Wife’ returns as strong as ever -

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Professor receives grant to cover massive election survey panel -

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Unions rally over recent concession proposals -

Thursday, October 23, 2014

NFL Pick’em games return to the Massachusetts Daily Collegian -

Thursday, October 23, 2014

UMass celebrates Campus Sustainability Day -

Thursday, October 23, 2014

“Fury” falls just short of greatness -

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Minutewomen look to continue their season in weekend game against Saint Bonaventure. -

Thursday, October 23, 2014

New meal plans receive mixed reviews from students -

Thursday, October 23, 2014

ISIS’s magazine is good for the West -

Thursday, October 23, 2014

UMass women’s soccer controls its own destiny as conference tournament approaches -

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

UMass soccer deploys new formation with Keys, Jess -

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

UMass calling on young swimmers to continue strong start to the year -

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

WMU, Ohio, NIU pick up wins in busy MAC weekend -

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A comprehensive guide to the Ebola virus -

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

UMass professor Hankinson researches breast cancer

RON SOMBILON MEDIA, ART and PHOTOGRAPHY / Flickr

Women who have excess body weight during the first half of their life may be less likely to develop breast cancer later on, according to one researcher at the University of Massachusetts, who believes this relationship flips after about age 50.

That turning point is menopause, the period in a woman’s life when she stops menstruating.

UMass epidemiologist Susan Hankinson said varying levels of hormones called estrogens and androgens might explain why. Previous studies have found high levels of these chemicals to be associated with increased breast cancer risk.

However, it is unclear which hormone is problematic because androgens can be converted into estrogens with the help of enzymes in the breast.

“We don’t know if it’s really androgens or if the androgens are simply a source, like a depot, of estrogens,” Hankinson said.

Hankinson’s current research aims to answer that question. She will try to tease apart the two hormones by looking at tumor tissue and developing an “expression score” for estrogen and androgen. Based on those scores, she hopes to gain insight into which hormone is more strongly associated with increased breast cancer risk.

One of the goals of the research is to improve the risk prediction models currently available for breast cancer.

“We’re now looking to see if hormones can add to our ability to predict risk,” Hankinson said.

Hormones may also provide an explanation as to how body size and breast cancer risk are related throughout a woman’s lifetime.

Postmenopausal women may be at higher risk because they have higher estrogen levels, Hankinson said. Excess body weight during this time can exacerbate the problem because fat converts androgens to estrogens, which is similar to the process that can occur in the breast.

Hankinson said it is less clear why young, overweight women may be shielded from breast cancer risk. One possibility is that certain hormonal influences may cause the breast tissue to become more resistant to the cancer, “but the specifics of that simply aren’t known yet,” Hankinson said.

But, it would not be appropriate for a young woman to gain weight as a means to lowering her breast cancer risk.

“That would overall be a really bad thing to do,” Hankinson said, as being overweight is associated with other chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

“There are lots of biochemical changes associated with being heavy as a child, and so if we find out what of the underlying biochemistry may be accounting for the association, there may be ways to impact those same biologic pathways,” Hankinson added.

Hormones likely play a key role in breast cancer risk, but Hankinson said lifestyle choices could also have an influence.

Alcohol consumption increases risk while physical activity decreases risk, she said.

“Those are factors that are under a woman’s control that she can actually change to give herself a lower risk profile,” Hankinson said.

Other faculty members in the school of public health are also actively researching breast cancer, including assistant professor Katherine Reeves and associate professor Susan Sturgeon.

“I think women’s health has become a really central focus of the school of public health,” Hankinson said.

Hankinson came to UMass last fall after serving as a professor at Harvard Medical School for about 23 years. She said she was happy to be joining the University at a time when the school of public health was growing in faculty and increasing its emphasis on research.

In addition to conducting research, she teaches an undergraduate public health course called Chronic Disease Epidemiology.

David Barnstone can be reached at dbarnsto@student.umass.edu.

Leave A Comment