Advocates and Researchers Work Together to Educate the Public About Links to Cancer
Published April 2007
American anthropologist Margaret Mead once said: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Those words ring true at UC, where a collaborative group of scientists, clinicians and community advocates is trying to do just that concerning public understanding of environmental factors that increase the risk for early-onset puberty, breast cancer and other diseases.
On May 12, the Cincinnati Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Center (BCERC) will host its third annual public forum on the environment and cancer—"Looking Upstream for Environmental Links to Breast Cancer." The event is a resource for anyone who wants to understand how the environment can impact their risk for cancer.
Established in 2003, the Cincinnati BCERC—one of only four such centers in the nation—is a joint research effort between the UC College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. The BCERC's work focuses on the potential links between environmental factors, puberty and breast cancer, and on educating the community about its findings. The center is funded by a seven-year grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Cancer Institute.
The center has three primary projects: a laboratory research study looking at the effects of diet on mammary gland development; an epidemiologic (population) study called "Growing Up Female" that focuses on environmental and genetic factors contributing to early-onset puberty; and a community outreach and education program.
Katie Brown, PhD, who heads outreach and education efforts for the center, says the 40 plus volunteer breast cancer advocates are critical to the center's success. In addition to supporting girls and their families during study evaluations, the advocates are out in the community educating others about the center's research objectives and findings.
"Our advocates have told us repeatedly that they want access to current research findings in lay language, but that's not always easily accessible," explains Brown. "The advocates help us to figure out what findings are most important for people in the community to know about, and then to communicate that information in terms that are understandable to the average person."
Most advocates are also breast cancer survivors, so they have a unique perspective on the fight against the disease that claims more than 41,000 lives each year. Each woman has a different reason for volunteering, but all share a passion for what they are doing.
"The breast cancer mortality rate for African-American women is too high, so it's important that we become more involved in breast cancer research to help find answers," says African-American Andrea Ice, a part-time outreach specialist for the BCERC and three-time breast cancer survivor. "I feel like we're on the right path to learn more about breast cancer. Hopefully, one day our efforts will help eradicate the disease."
Advocate Banita Bailey was only 29 when she first learned she had breast cancer. She was 36 when it came back again. She says she got involved with the BCERC to help change the future for her daughter, who grew up knowing that her mother was battling breast cancer.
"I don't want her to have to face the same issues that I went through," Bailey explains. "I have to believe that we can change how we think of breast cancer during my lifetime. We've made great strides in early detection, but we need to focus more on prevention instead of always reacting to a diagnosis. The BCERC is beginning that change, and I'm very excited to be a part of it."
"There are so many ways to volunteer in the breast cancer arena," adds advocate Ann Hernick, "but I volunteer at the BCERC because it allows me to look at the 'whys' of the disease and how it can be prevented in future generations."
In addition to updates on the Cincinnati BCERC projects, this year's forum will include sessions on water quality standards and monitoring regulations, new research into the health effects of bisphenol A—a chemical widely used in plastic food containers and water pipes—and how the pace of physical and cultural development in children has changed and how that may affect their health in the future.
Registration for the event is $15 and includes breakfast, educational materials and parking. Space is limited and registration is requested by May 7. Nursing continuing education credits are pending. For more information, visit www.eh.uc.edu/growingupfemale.