Channing Breast Cancer Research

An Interdisciplinary Approach to Understand Breast Cancer Etiology, Heterogeneity and Prognosis

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second most common cause of cancer death in U.S. women. Breast cancer is a heterogeneous disease with respect to its etiology, prognosis, and response to therapy. Epidemiological studies have convincingly established a number of risk factors for breast cancer.

Current Research

Investigators at the Channing Division of Network Medicine (CDNM) have built a comprehensive research strategy to:

  • Study the epidemiology of breast cancer
  • Identify heterogeneity in risk factors by molecular subtypes of breast cancer
  • Develop risk prediction models for breast cancer
  • Utilize biomarkers to define important mechanisms by which risk factors influence risk and prognosis of breast cancer

We apply an interdisciplinary approach to understand breast cancer etiology, heterogeneity, and prognosis.


CDNM breast cancer researchers have made important contributions to our understanding of breast cancer risk factors and survival. These are highlighted in the following publication:

Breast Cancer Research in the Nurses' Health Studies: Exposures Across the Life Course. Rice MS, Eliassen AH, Hankinson SE, Lenart EB, Willett WC, Tamimi RM. Am J Public Health. 2016 Sep;106(9):1592-8. PMCID: PMC4981804

Risk factors

Breast cancer is a multifactorial disease, and CDNM researchers are able to assess a wide range of risk factors, including:

  • Reproductive factors, anthropometry, diet, lifestyle, and commonly used medications, via questionnaire-based assessments
  • Exposures across the life course with repeated assessments to examine specific periods of susceptibility
  • Geocoded environmental and neighborhood exposures to examine their impact on breast cancer risk and survival


We have collected a wide range of biospecimens, including blood, urine, toenails, stool, mammograms, and archival tissue specimens. This has allowed us to conduct assays for candidate biomarkers, as well as more omics-wide assays:

  • Candidate biomarkers such as prediagnostic sex steroid hormone levels and timed samples in premenopausal women
  • Omics-level data: Genome-wide association studies (GWAS), metabolomics, gene expression array data on tumor and paired normal adjacent, RNASeq in benign breast lesions
  • Imaging features from screening mammograms, including breast density and other features

Molecular pathology

CDNM scientists leverage archival tissue specimens to better understand breast cancer etiology:

  • Addressing complex disease heterogeneity by subtyping tumors according to clinically used and novel tissue markers
  • Integration of prediagnostic risk factor data with gene expression data to understand how risk factors influence disease mechanisms
  • Investigating how novel tissue markers influence long-term survival outcomes
  • Leveraging novel machine-learning tools to identify important features from pathology images in both benign breast and tumor tissue

Study populations

Study populations developed by CDNM investigators to investigate breast cancer and other breast health outcomes, include:

National and international collaborations

As founding members of the NCI Cohort Consortium, CDNM has led and contributed to many investigations that leverage strength in numbers by joining forces with other cohort studies.

The CDNM breast cancer group leads collaborations, including Discovery, Biology, Risk of Inherited Variants in Breast Cancer (DRIVE), Breast and Prostate Cancer Cohort Consortium (BPC3), Markers of Density Consortium (MODE), and the Diet and Cancer Pooling Project. We also contribute to other large-scale consortia, including Breast Cancer Association Consortium, After Breast Cancer Pooling Project, Collaborative Group on Endogenous Hormones and Breast Cancer, and many others.