A pill for rising postpartum breast cancer?

OHSU cancer researcher leads charge in fight against young women's breast cancer

FILE: Pink umbrellas and balloons are displayed over a stream to promote Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
FILE: Pink umbrellas and balloons are displayed over a stream to promote Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — Oregon is at the forefront of research into a demographic researchers call a “hot spot of breast cancer” — young mothers in the five years after they give birth.

OHSU researcher Dr. Pepper Schedin (OHSU)
OHSU researcher Dr. Pepper Schedin (OHSU)

Oregon Health Sciences University researcher Dr. Pepper Schedin is leading a team to develop a pill that would prevent, and slow down the progression of, postpartum breast cancer, a disease “measurably on the rise” in the U.S.

“This is a problem and people don’t think it’s a problem,” said Schedin.

Women under 45 who are diagnosed with breast cancer in the five years after they complete a pregnancy are three times more likely to die from that cancer than women who have not completed a pregnancy.

Furthermore, 25% of all breast cancer diagnoses fall into the demographic of women under 45 (what breast cancer researchers consider young women).

The area is not well funded, Schedin said, and a perception lingers that breast cancer is an older women’s disease.

Oregon as a leader 

Schedin has turned down offers from countless universities after co-founding the Young Women’s Breast Cancer Translational Program at the University of Colorado.

But, she said her “obligation to the patient population” brought her to Oregon Health & Science University’s Knight Cancer Institute.

“I wanted to say no,” said Schedin. “But the resources deployed here allow me to do 20 years of research in five years.”

Thursday, OHSU announced the Knight Cancer Institute was awarded a $100,000 grant from the Kay Yow Cancer Fund and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association to study young women’s breast cancer. Schedin said there is no better place in the country to study young women’s breast cancer than in Oregon.

In 2011, the last year for which data is available, Oregon had a breast cancer rate of 129 per 100,000, the eleventh highest in the country.

Why is breast cancer on the rise? 

One factor Schedin’s team looked at is the number of years between the time a woman begins menstruating, and the time she gives birth.

Less than 200 years ago, the average age for a woman to begin menstruating was 17, and the average age for a first pregnancy 19. Now, those ages are 12.5 and 28. A two-year gap between first menstrual cycles and first pregnancy compared to a gap of more than fifteen years is significant, Schedin said.

Other factors include diet, exercise and exposure to toxic substances, Schedin said.

What can young mothers do? 

  • Take any changes in breast tissue very seriously
  • Understand pregnancy is a risk for breast cancer
  • Get a breast exam within six weeks as part of your postpartum visit
  • Get mammography screenings every year beginning at age 40

October is breast cancer awareness month.

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