March 30, 2007

N.Y. Awards Cancer Program

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The Breast Cancer and Environmental Risk Factor Program at Cornell recently received the 2006 New York State Innovation in Breast Cancer Early Detection and Research Award for its pioneering program of breast cancer research and education as well as its long-term commitment to the New York State community.

Unlike research programs that focus on laboratory-based work, BCERF is unique in that it emphasizes the assessment of science and public outreach.

“We have a two-fold mission. The first is to evaluate scientific information on environmental factors and cancer risk.The second is to reduce cancer risk by promoting ways people can make decisions in their lives and their communities to reduce risk,” said Dr. Suzanne Snedeker, associate director of translational research.

Presented by the New York State Breast Cancer Detection and Education Advisory Council, the award encompasses five specific criteria: a long-term commitment to breast cancer research and education, creativity of efforts, impact on New York State residents, ability to collaborate with others in the community and service to underserved populations.

Founded in 1996, BCERF has earned statewide and national reputations for its work with other scientists and professionals as well as its targeted audiences. Since its inception, BCERF has remained close to its mission while increasing involvement with the community.

“We evolve as the science changes, and we continue to form new partnerships. Everything we do is tailored to who we partner with,” Snedeker said.

“We started mostly as interpreting research, in translational research. Since then we’ve changed in that we’re trying to help people make changes. We’re doing much more intervention,” said Prof. Carol Devine, nutritional science.

Among these efforts is the “Small Steps are Easier Together” project, aimed at developing strategies for local policies and activities that can help lower rising rates of obesity and reduce risk of breast cancer.

“We work with people in the community to talk about environment applications to preventing weight gain, like healthy eating. They pick the things they want to change,” Devine said.

With respect to innovations, this project is just one example. In general, BCERF distinguishes itself by taking a multimedia approach. Information regarding environmental risk factors of breast cancer is available in print through the quarterly newsletter The Ribbon, on the web and in person.

The website contains videos, slideshows and fact sheets, but BCERF also holds workshops for personal interaction. One of the upcoming workshops, a Cancer and Environmental forum, will be taking place May 11 in downtown Ithaca.

“Participants [in BCERF programs] find they are better able to understand risks, plan to make changes in their lives, share information with clients and patients, and feel they can use the information at work and at home,” said Snedeker.

In 2003 BCERF joined the Sprecher Institute for Comparative Cancer Research at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, collaborating together to better understand the causes of cancer and links to environmental factors. Currently, BCERF is also working with the New York State Breast Cancer Support and Education Network and New York State teachers because, believe it or not, teachers have a higher incidence of breast cancer than the average person, according over 25 studies done in the U.S. and internationally. It is also working to educate the rural population — in particular, educating farm families about pesticide exposure.

Here at Cornell, BCERF occasionally gives talks at sororities and wellness fairs, and is looking to work with students and student groups to develop programs and educational podcasts in the future.

BCERF will be acknowledged for its achievements at an award luncheon on April 4 in Latham, N.Y.

“I think we all feel really fortunate that we have the recognition, and the visibility is wonderful in both the Cornell community and across the state. We hope it brings more people to our website, gets more people interested, [and] helps build more partnerships across the state,” Snedeker said. “Our ultimate goal is to make people want to know about environmental risk factors. That would be the best outcome, that because of this risks are reduced.”