The four-decade-old Nurses’ Health Study sets its sights on breast cancer

2 min read

The Nurses’ Health Study—which turned 40 this year—continues to provide a treasure trove of information on diet and lifestyle factors and environmental exposures that influence risk of chronic diseases. An article published Nov. 23, 2016 in JAMA highlighted new efforts by study researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to zero in on breast cancer risk.

The period before a woman’s first pregnancy appears to be when the greatest risk accrues for breast cancer later in life, Jorge Chavarro, associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology, said in the article. To deduce why, Chavarro, who is principal investigator of the study’s offshoot cohort NHS3, is working to recruit a younger and more diverse group of nurses.

He and his colleagues are also introducing some updates to the study design of NHS3, including sending surveys via email every six months instead of the original paper survey every two years. In addition, they are introducing wearable devices and smartphone-based technologies that will produce more objective data on exposures, he said.

But one thing never changes—the dedication of the nurses participating in the studies. “They’re such an exceptional group,” said Meir Stampfer, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard Chan School and NHS principal investigator. “I think many of them really feel like they’re part of a community.”