Battling Breast Cancer

Breast cancer results from the combined effects of genetic susceptibility and environmental exposures. Further complicating this issue is that in some patients, these factors work to increase breast cancer risk; in others, they may lower that risk. Prediction of risk for individual patients remains inaccurate and represents a major dilemma for clinicians and patients. While aggressive therapy is required for some individuals, the same treatment may cause substantial and unnecessary morbidity for others.

The Rays for Hope Center for Breast Cancer Research brings together scientists whose cancer research covers a wide range of issues-a diverse team perfectly suited to study a complex disease such as breast cancer. For example, scientists know that diabetes and obesity increase a woman's breast cancer risk. They also know that breast cancer patients who have diabetes and/or obesity often have a poorer prognosis. The question is why? Work in the center will examine that issue to better understand the link between these three conditions.

A greater understanding of the interaction between genetic susceptibility and environmental risk factors such as diet and environmental estrogens will provide improvements in risk assessment and prognosis for individual patients. Toward this end, center faculty are engaged in research to define fundamental pathways in breast cancer, work that may involve mapping novel breast cancer susceptibility loci, defining molecular events leading to hyperplasia, and predicting metastasis.

Scientists know that environmental factors account for about two-thirds of overall breast cancer risk. Research in this area could lead to information that significantly lowers the chances a patient will develop the disease. Scientists also know that hormonal profiles associated with pregnancy can reduce breast cancer risk by as much as 50%, although the exact link is poorly understood. Studies of the cellular pathways involved in this reduced risk could lead to targeted therapies to prevent the disease. Faculty members in the center are involved in creating new animal models to further studies of the pathways that mediate susceptibility to breast cancer and evaluate the effectiveness of experimental drugs. The center also provides a formal structure for basic scientists and clinicians to collaborate on studies evaluating the utility of specific biomarkers. This is augmented by the participation of patients, who play an essential role in supporting the translation of research to clinical practice.

Among the center's interests is atypical hyperplasia, a condition in which abnormal cells accumulate in breast tissue. Atypical hyperplasia represents an emerging diagnostic challenge: only about 10% of breast lesions will progress to invasive carcinoma; the rest do not progress and only require minimal treatment. Predicting which patients will need extensive therapeutic intervention and identifying the most appropriate treatments for individual patients are essential to ensuring patients' health and limiting medical costs by avoiding unnecessary treatment.

Scientists, engineers, and clinicians from PVLSI, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and the Baystate Medical Center whose work is related to breast cancer are welcome to attend the Rays of Hope Center for Breast Cancer Research meetings and become involved in the group's activities.

For more information, please contact D. Joseph Jerry, PhD, at 413.545.5335 or by e-mail at If your company is interested in the group's work, please contact Dr. Paul Friedmann at 413.794.0653 or by e-mail at


Members of the Rays of Hope Center for Breast Cancer Research

Richard Arenas, MD
Chief of Surgical Oncology, Baystate Health; Adjunct Professor, Biology, University of Massachusetts Amherst. View profile
Carol Bigelow, PhD
Research Associate Professor, Biostatistics, and Graduate Program Director for the Worcester MPH Program, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Q. Jackie Cao, MD, PhD
Pathology, Baystate Health
Giovanna Crisi, MD, PhD
Director, Electron Microscopy and Renal Pathology Service, Co-Director Breast Pathology Service, Baystate Health
D. Joseph Jerry, PhD
Science Director, PVLSI; Director, Center for Breast Cancer Research, PVLSI; Professor, Veterinary and Animal Sciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst. View profile
Melissa Johnson, MD
Plastic Surgery, Baystate Health
Grace Makari-Judson, MD
Director, Comprehensive Breast Center, Baystate Health
David E. March, MD
Director, Breast Imaging Services, Baystate Health
Holly Mason, MD
General Surgery, Baystate Health
Christopher N. Otis, MD
Director, Surgical Pathology and Immunohistochemistry, Baystate Health
Sallie Smith Schneider, PhD
Director, CEAR; Scientist, PVLSI; Adjunct Research Assistant Professor, Veterinary and Animal Sciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst. View profile
Kristin Stueber, MD
Director, Plastic Surgical Service, Baystate Health