If 15 researchers take one day to process 1,000 questionnaires, how long before they reach a million? Four years and ten tons of paper, according to Valerie Beral , principal investigator of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund's Million Women Study.
Far too ambitious, said the critics, but the project, which started in a small way around Oxford, went over the million mark this week. One in every four British women aged between 50 and 64 is involved in the study, which aims to discover whether different types of hormone replacement therapy affect breast cancer in different ways. Initial information shows that one in 70 participants has had breast cancer and survived and one in 11 has had a mother or sister who has had breast cancer.
Professor Beral, from the ICRF's Cancer Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University, says Britain is the only country that can carry out this study because of its combination of a large population and a comprehensive breast-screening programme.
She came to the UK soon after graduating in medicine from Sydney University in 1969 and spent 20 years at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, before moving to Oxford 11 years ago.
She chairs the National Health Service's advisory committee on breast cancer screening and was elected to the Academy of Medical Sciences last year. Another field of interest is whether infections cause cancer, and Professor Beral is coodinating an international collaboration to look at cancers that occur in people infected with HIV.
Professor Beral has questioned the findings of a small-scale study into breast cancer and the contraceptive pill. Her own work, based on over 50,000 women with breast cancer, concluded that any effects of using it will vanish after ten years. If she needs help with figures, she can call on her 19-year-old son, who is studying maths at Sydney University. She also has a 21-year-old son in San Francisco.
People is edited by Harriet Swain and researched by Lynne Williams.
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