U.S. Advisers to Guide Breast Cancer Research

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The National Institutes of Health named a committee on Monday to help guide research into the environmental and genetic causes of breast cancer.

The 19-member Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee will meet in September to help decide where research money will be best spent.

"The broad range of expertise and insight of these individuals will ensure the federal research portfolio continues to advance our understanding of the critical links between our environment, our genes, and our health," said Linda Birnbaum, director of the NIH's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Members of the panel include experts at federal agencies, doctors and advocates.

Congress mandated the panel last year, said Gwen Collman of the NIEHS, who will help facilitate the committee's work.

"It was Congress who decided there was a need for some oversight and strategic organization of breast cancer research," Collman said in a telephone interview.

Scientists realized the importance of including advocacy groups when discussing research and where best to spend money, she said.

"I think this experience of having advocates speak to scientists and vice versa has begun a process where there is education on both ends on what's important here."

One in eight U.S. women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, the second-leading cause of cancer death among American women after lung cancer. It kills 500,000 people globally every year and is diagnosed in close to 1.3 million people.

The risk rises as a woman gets older and several genes are linked with breast cancer. Obesity, use of hormones, and childbearing also affect the risk but a significant percentage of cases cannot be explained yet.

Death rates from cancer are falling in the United States, but many people fear chemicals or other outside factors may cause a variety of cancers, and researchers are keen to ensure that scarce research dollars are spent in the best way.