Penn Researchers Awarded $10 Million Grant To Study Link Between Genes And Hormone-Related Cancers

November 23, 1998

(Philadelphia, PA) -- Whether taken to counteract menopausal symptoms with hormone replacement therapy or as oral contraceptives to prevent pregnancy, external hormones can increase the risk of breast and uterine cancers. To advance the investigation of hormone-induced female cancers, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have been awarded a five-year Program Project Grant by the National Cancer Institute totaling nearly $10 million. This study has been dubbed by the investigators as "WISE: Women's Insights and Shared Experiences."

While female hormones can be risk factors for select cancers, a woman's genetic make-up may also affect her response to hormone exposures and the development of hormone-sensitive cancers. "The study's main objectives are to identify who is genetically susceptible to developing breast and uterine cancers, and to determine whether the anti-estrogen steroid progestin can help offset the increased risk of uterine cancers when added to traditional hormone replacement therapy, which consists of estrogen alone," explains Brian L. Strom, MD, MPH, principal investigator of the study and Chair of the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at Penn. "A better understanding of the interaction between hormones and genetic mechanisms will have a great impact on how female cancers are addressed."

The $9.9 million WISE study combines the expertise of pharmacoepidemiologists, genetic epidemiologists, and molecular biologists to examine the relationships among hormone exposures, inherited susceptibility, and the genetic consequences of these exposures in the development of hormone-sensitive female cancers. The study is composed of three inter-related projects; two of which are population-based to ensure representation of the entire population and to eliminate selection bias.

The two population-based projects involve the random selection of women diagnosed with breast or uterine cancer from the entire Philadelphia-metropolitan area. These cancer cases will then be compared to a set of women without a personal cancer history. Study participants will undergo a telephone interview and will have their medical history reviewed. DNA samples will also be collected to examine hormone metabolism. The third project will focus on the use of animal and human basic science studies to evaluate the effect of hormone exposures on the expression of specific genes. The innovative combination of population-based studies and basic science studies into a single project could provide insight into multiple aspects of hormone-related cancers.

While many women may be exposed to hormonal compounds that can affect cancer risk, not all women may be equally affected by these exposures. A woman's genes may, in part, predict increased cancer risk following hormone exposures. "This study will provide information about both hormone exposures and the genes that may affect a woman's response to those exposures," states Timothy R. Rebbeck, PhD, co-principal investigator of the study and assistant professor of Epidemiology. "This could help us to better understand hormonal pathways that are associated with cancer, and to identify specific women in the population whose cancer risk may be increased after taking hormones."
Editor's Notes: Dr. Strom can be reached directly at 215-898-2368; Dr Rebbeck can be reached at 215-898-1793.

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

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