The Breast Cancer Now Generations Study was set up in 2004 to help understand the causes of breast cancer. At the moment, we don’t know why one woman will develop the disease while another won’t. This is an enormous project following more than 113,000 UK women for 40 years. The study will help us understand who may be more likely to develop the disease and what we could do to prevent it.

What is the study about?

There is never one single cause of breast cancer. A combination of our genes, lifestyle choices and events throughout life all contribute to the likelihood of developing the disease. The Breast Cancer Now Generations Study is investigating all these different factors that may change a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.

Knowing all these factors and understanding how they may combine to cause breast cancer will help us identify women who have a high chance of developing the disease. And knowing what factors contribute to this increased risk, women could receive more accurate advice about the best risk-reducing steps they can take.

How will the study answer these questions?

There are more than 113,000 UK women of different ages and from different backgrounds taking part in this study. Some of them will develop breast cancer, but others won’t. And researchers will try to understand the differences between them.

All women taking part in the study completed a detailed questionnaire about their lifestyle, including diet, alcohol intake and even the kind of jobs they do. They also provided blood samples to give researchers information about their genetics and to track their hormone levels.

Women will be asked to send in follow up questionnaires and blood samples every few years for 40 years in total. This will allow researchers to gather enough data to uncover as many factors linked to breast cancer as possible.

Much of the analysis of the study is carried out by Professor Anthony Swerdlow at The Institute of Cancer Research and Professor Olivia Fletcher at the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre.

Breast Cancer Now is also funding the Male Breast Cancer Study, which is investigating the risk factors linked to breast cancer in men.

What has the Generations Study discovered so far?

Running for over 16 years now, the Generations Study has already expanded our understanding of breast cancer.

Currently, I’m analysing data form wristband activity trackers. Over 12,000 women have worn them for 8 days to continuously measure their physical activity 24 hours a day. I’m particularly interested in answering questions on how the amount of physical activity changes with age, who exercises more and who doesn’t, and what the main barriers are.

 Dr Michael Jones, Senior Staff Scientist at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, working on the Generations Study

With over 20 more years to go, we expect the Generations Study to bring many more breakthroughs, helping us better understand breast cancer and finding better ways to prevent the disease.

Get in touch

If you're a member of the Generations Study and want to contact the study team, please phone 020 8722 4469 or email generationscohort@icr.ac.uk.