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Uncovering the Links Between Childhood Growth, Body Size, and a Woman’s Risk of Breast Cancer

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Welcome to the second in a series of posts marking International Women’s Day, and our ongoing support of World Cancer Research Fund. This installment is a review by Dr. Jennifer Baker, of her work, that, with the help of a WCRF grant, is studying body size and its links to breast cancer. Dr. Baker, Lead Investigator at Denmark’s Frederiksberg Hospital, has a Ph.D. in Human Nutrition from Cornell University. Her research focuses on clinical epidemiology.

Missed the first post in this special series? You can still read Dawn Penner’s account of her successful breast-cancer treatment.


This is an exciting time in the lab as we get ready to start a comprehensive new study that seeks to understand how weight and body size, throughout a woman’s life, combine to collectively increase or decrease her risk of breast cancer. This is an important question, given that existing WCRF research has shown obesity impacts pre- and post-menopausal breast cancer differently:

  • Being overweight or obese as an adult increases the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer
  • Being overweight or obese before menopause decreases the risk of premenopausal breast cancer

A deep dive into decades-old data.

Our research will look at a number of events across a woman’s life from birth until old age, including how old she was at the onset of puberty, body size throughout her life, whether or not she has benign breast disease (non-cancerous lumps) or dense breast tissue (milk glands, milk ducts, and supportive tissue).

Where will we get all these data points? We’ll delve into the health records of more than 158,000 seven- to 13-year-old girls who were born between 1930 and 1992, and attended school in Copenhagen. Then, using government-issued identification numbers, we will electronically link those historical records to national health registers and studies that contain information on the women’s current body size, other lifestyle and health information, as well as diagnoses of benign breast disease, mammographic density and breast cancer in adulthood.

Saving more lives: The potential impact of this research.

By combining all this information, we’ll be able to see how body size over a lifetime, along with the other events, can predict whether a woman will be diagnosed with different subtypes of breast cancer, and her chances of surviving after a diagnosis.

Our research will help build a risk profile that can be used to guide preventive efforts, and direct further research into the mechanisms that increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer at specific points across her life.

As our research gets underway, we would like to take a moment to thank WCRF for helping to make this project possible, as well as SCIEX and its team for their invaluable and ongoing support of WCRF. Your contributions make a difference around the world every day.

Be sure to keep an eye out for our third and final International Women’s Day post. In it, dietitian Deborah Howland talks about how she uses WCRF’s Eat Well During Cancer guide to help her patients cope with common treatment side effects.

Are you interested in learning more about Dr. Baker’s research? Here’s where you can find more information >

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