Can We Prevent Breast Cancer?

October 4, 2012 at 1:18 pm , by

During one of her recent volunteer shifts at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, AnneMarie Ciccarella (right) visited a woman who was recovering from a mastectomy. “It was the same bed in the same room I woke up in six years ago to the day,” she says. “Stuff like that really gets to me: When are we going to figure this out? How can we end this?”

Breast cancer affects 1 in 8 women in their lifetime. This year, more than 220,000 American women will be diagnosed with it and 40,000 will die. When we met Ciccarella for our October issue story on breast cancer survivors, she said she’s so tired of hearing these numbers. We’ve got to find a way to stop breast cancer.

That’s where the Health of Women (HOW) study comes in, says Ciccarella, who serves as the New York volunteer team coordinator with the Love/Avon Army of Women. Launched by the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, the Army of Women has been enrolling women in different research projects since 2008. Now the foundation is launching its own study to follow a huge group of women over time to learn why the disease develops. The key to all this? Your participation.

Why It’s Important
Many breast cancer patients have no known risk factors. So, does where you work or how much you sleep affect whether you will get breast cancer? Can anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen reduce breast cancer risk? These are the types of thing we want to understand better, and the larger the group of women we study, the more we can learn, says Leslie Bernstein, Ph.D., professor and director of cancer etiology at the Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope in Los Angeles, a partner in the study.

How It Works
After you answer a questionnaire about your health history, the HOW study will send you e-mails every three to four months when a new module becomes available. The questionnaires are co-created by epidemiologists, statisticians and breast cancer advocates, and participants will have the opportunity to submit questions they want answered, says Naz Sykes, executive director of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation.

The researchers want to follow women for 20 years or more. It’s a commitment, but the modules only take a few minutes to answer. All of your data will be stored in your account and in a database available to researchers—without your name attached.

Where To Sign Up
Go to and create an account. Then get your friends involved. The researchers want healthy women from every ethnicity, plus breast cancer survivors, women with other health issues and even men who’ve had breast cancer. I’ve already enrolled and I hope you will, too. Head to the study’s helpful FAQs page for more info.

Photo by Avery Powell

My Place in the Sun

July 14, 2010 at 5:31 pm , by

EmotiSun with Sunglasses - 3D renderI have such a love-hate relationship with the sun. It has warmed me, helped me feel relaxed and sexy, and caused my petunias to proliferate so fast you can almost hear them grow. On the other hand, it has burned me, caused the hostas on my terrace to dry and curl up like crepe paper, and sprinkled unwanted brown spots across my white Scottish-Swedish skin. It has also given me skin cancer. Six times, to be precise, starting when I was only in my 20s.

I avoid the sun now—and I miss it. I’m envious when I see lithe, tanned young girls cavorting on the beach while I stroll in my hat, sunglasses, long sleeves and SPF 100. And I worry that I’m not getting enough vitamin D. Having low levels of this vitamin (well, actually, it’s a hormone), has been linked to a higher risk of cancer, vascular disease, infectious illnesses, autoimmune disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, dementia, Parkinson’s and even obesity, according to studies. And we don’t know if supplements really do the trick—or what the appropriate dose is. Read more