What Causes Breast Cancer? These Families Want To Help Find Out.

February 11, 2015

At 48, Jenny Singleton got breast cancer. At 66, her mother did, too.

“When my breast cancer was diagnosed, I immediately thought we must have a gene for it,” Jenny Singleton said. “So I was tested and I didn’t have the BRCA gene. And so that’s often left me wondering, well, then why is it that my mom and I both got breast cancer?”

Cancer susceptibility genes are estimated to account for only 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers overall. Now the Singletons and thousands of other families are part of a study that is looking to see if there is evidence that environmental exposures in the uterus during pregnancy could account for some breast cancers later in life.

Barbara Cohn, director of the Child Health and Development Studies, looks through participant files collected over 56 years.

Epidemiologist Barbara Cohn is leading this research. Cohn is the director of the Child Health and Development Studies project in Oakland, Calif.

From 1959 to 1967, the group’s researchers enrolled some 20,000 pregnant women — including Jenny’s mother, Bernice — in a long-term study to track their health and the health of their children.

Over the past five decades, the researchers have tracked those families, using the data to investigate everything from the effects of smoking and exposure to pesticides during pregnancy, to possible causes of schizophrenia…

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