The breast cancer and the environment research centers: transdisciplinary research on the role of the environment in breast cancer etiology.
We introduce and describe the Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Centers (BCERC), a research network with a transdisciplinary approach to elucidating the role of environmental factors in pubertal development as a window on breast cancer etiology. We describe the organization of four national centers integrated into the BCERC network. Investigators use a common conceptual framework based on multiple levels of biologic, behavioral, and social organization across the life span. The approach connects basic biologic studies with rodent models and tissue culture systems, a coordinated multicenter epidemiologic cohort study of prepubertal girls, and the integration of community members of breast cancer advocates as key members of the research team to comprise the network. Relevant literature is reviewed that describes current knowledge across levels of organization. Individual research questions and hypotheses in BCERC are driven by gaps in our knowledge that are presented at genetic, metabolic, cellular, individual, and environmental (physical and social) levels. As data collection on the cohort, animal experiments, and analyses proceed, results will be synthesized through a transdisciplinary approach. Center investigators are addressing a large number of specific research questions related to early pubertal onset, which is an established risk factor for breast cancer. BCERC research findings aimed at the primary prevention of breast cancer will be disseminated to the scientific community and to the public by breast cancer advocates, who have been integral members of the research process from its inception.