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University of Iowa News Release

Aug. 7, 2006

Researchers Seek Former DISC Participants for Study

Researchers from around the country, including the University of Iowa, are seeking out more than 300 women, ages 25 to 29, to continue research started when the women were grade-school girls. The research, originally conducted as part of the Dietary Intervention Study in Children (DISC), focuses on establishing what link, if any, exists between the diets of adolescent girls and their future risk of developing breast cancer.

The research conducted in the 1990s involved an intervention to modify dietary habits including fat intake of half of the 300 girls, beginning when they were as young as 8 years old to see if their diet affected their sex hormone levels compared to the other girls who ate their usual diets. The studies originated as an ancillary to DISC, a multi-center, randomized, controlled clinical trial to test the safety and efficacy of a cholesterol-lowering dietary intervention in children. DISC was sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, and the National Cancer Institute provided funding for the ancillary study to evaluate the effects of the dietary intervention on hormone levels.

Linda Snetselaar, Ph.D., UI professor of epidemiology, study coordinator Lois Ahrens and the research team members from other U.S. institutions published their first significant findings in 2003. The study's results showed girls who ate a higher-fat diet during puberty had an increased level of sex hormones in their blood. Other studies have shown that increased levels of sex hormones can influence the rate of maturation. Early maturation as a girl and elevated serum sex hormone levels as an adult increase a woman's chance of developing breast cancer.

"Our initial work provided significant insights into the role diet might potentially play in a girl's breast development and future risk of cancer," Snetselaar said. "This was one of the first studies to look at lower-fat diets in children. To be able to follow this study group into adulthood is a rare opportunity. These women are a very special population and can help provide important insights into women's health."

Snetselaar continued, "Beginning this summer, we'll contact these young women and ask for their help again. In our follow-up study, we want to find out if their diet also has had an impact on bone and breast density, both factors that are associated with the future risk of breast cancer."

The new research effort, funded by a $4.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, aims to evaluate the long-term effects of dietary fat intake during adolescence on breast cancer markers such as levels of hormones in the blood, bone mineral density and breast density. Snetselaar is working with Joanne Dorgan, Ph.D., of Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. Dorgan is principal investigator of the study.

"Although we do not know if lower hormone levels during adolescence will influence breast cancer risk in adulthood, adolescence is a time of rapid growth and maturation of the breasts," Snetselaar explained. "Estrogens and progesterone contribute to the regulation of this process. By continuing to follow these women, we hope to gain new insights about dietary impact."

Snetselaar added, "So often, we hear of people changing their diets late in life to prevent cancer. While that is a good idea, our earlier work suggests having a good diet that begins during childhood and adolescence may be important."

For more information, contact UI study coordinator Lois Ahrens at 319-384-5044 or

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa College of Public Health Office of Communications, 4257 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242.

CONTACTS: Program: Lois Ahrens, 319-384-5044. Media: Kate Gleeson, 319-384-4277, Writer: Debra Venzke