California Breast Cancer Research Program Awards $7 million in Special Research Initiatives


Lyn Dunagan

July 28, 2009—Oakland, CA—The California Breast Cancer Research Program (CBCRP) has awarded over $7 million in 2009 for Special Research Initiative studies into the role of the environment and the impact of disparities in breast cancer. They are pursuing answers to the following questions:

Why are some racial/ethnic groups more likely to die from breast cancer?

Researchers from across California are collaborating on a unique $286,941 pilot project* to combine data from seven ongoing studies to explore why some groups of women are more likely to die even when diagnosed at the same stage, with the same kind of cancer. If they can create this powerful new database the collaborators will continue with a study of up to $3.9 million to identify differences that could lead to ways to reduce breast cancer deaths or prevent the disease.


If a woman was exposed to chemicals years ago, could that cause breast cancer today?

Barbara Cohn, Ph.D., of the Public Health Institute, is undertaking a $5 million study to find out if women exposed to certain chemicals while they were developing in the womb are more likely to get breast cancer. With rare access to samples taken from pregnant women 40 years ago, they will look at levels of toxins and the daughters’ risk of breast cancer.

How can we use California’s unique resources to identify breast cancer risk factors across the State?

Peggy Reynolds, Ph.D., and Susan Hurley, M.P.H., of the Northern California Cancer Center, are undertaking a $132,203 one-year pilot project* to develop methodology that will allow them to augment the California Teachers Study with more diverse members, collect more biological samples, and develop the most feasible and useful study for this unique cohort and data resource. The resulting research questions about the environment's role in breast cancer and study design will be reviewed in 2010 for larger, long-term funding of up to $6 million.

How does the burden of breast cancer differ between various groups?

Scarlett Lin Gomez, Ph.D., of the Northern California Cancer Center, is leading a $430,939 project to create and test in multiple languages standard questions on race, ethnic group, migration history, income and education level, disability, sexual orientation, and gender. This will allow comparing or combining data from different studies to investigate breast cancer burden across populations.

With so many risk factors acting together to cause breast cancer, how can we understand and prevent it?

Robert Hiatt, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., of the University of California, San Francisco, will lead a $229,732 project to develop a model of breast cancer causation that includes combinations of interacting causes, such as genes, breast tissue structure, hormones, chemicals from the environment, events during development in the womb, diet, immigration history, barriers to exercise due to neighborhood, income and education level, social support, and cultural attitudes about breastfeeding. The result will be a tool backed by scientific evidence to improve research design and policy decisions.

To take advantage of new, more powerful computers and software, the CBCRP is funding three research teams to develop new statistical analysis strategies and apply them to existing data sets.

David Nelson, Ph.D. of the Northern California Cancer Center was awarded $278,195 to examine which, if any, of the thousands of pesticides used in California agriculture pose a risk of breast cancer to our state’s teachers. The resulting modeling tool will be made available to other environmental health and breast cancer researchers.

Daniel Stram, Ph.D. of University of Southern California was awarded $442,631 to conduct simulation studies using innovative statistical techniques to analyze the complex genetic data from the ongoing African American Breast Cancer Study, evaluate which methods are most useful, particularly for people of historically mixed ancestry, and explore susceptibility.

Eric Roberts, M.D., Ph.D. with the Public Health Institute was awarded $349,225 to use new computer power to make breast cancer data more useful for the public and advocates. They will create tools for exploring smaller geographic differences in breast cancer in California, while protecting patient privacy and allowing for the addition of other area-specific characteristics to identify vulnerable communities and generate new research ideas.

How can Californians be protected from chemicals that could cause breast cancer?

John Balmes, M.D., of the Northern California Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, is leading a $159,334 project to encourage those developing California’s new chemicals policy to address breast and other hormonal cancers. They will offer priorities for tests and chemicals to be tested for their effect on breast cancer.

For full descriptions of these and future Special Research Initiatives visit

*Project partially funded by The Avon Foundation for Women.

About the California Breast Cancer Research Program
Created by the State Legislature in 1993, the California Breast Cancer Research Program (CBCRP) is the largest state-funded breast cancer research program in the nation and is administered by the University of California, Office of the President. To date, the CBCRP has awarded 860 grants to 98 scientific institutions and community entities, totaling over $205 million for research in California to prevent, treat, and cure breast cancer. Awards include traditional investigator-initiated projects, community-based collaborative research projects, and program-directed special research initiatives. Grants from the CBCRP fill gaps not traditionally funded by other research programs to jump-start new areas of investigation that push the boundaries of research and foster new collaborations. The CBCRP is funded through the voluntary tax check-off program on personal income tax form 540, a portion of the state tobacco tax, and individual contributions. For more information, call 888 313-2277, or visit