Web Forum

Hidden Science:
The Complexity of Determining what Causes Breast Cancer
A Conversation with Barbara Cohn, PhD
Thursday, July 7, 2011 | 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM Pacific

The mechanisms of certain diseases can be incredibly complicated to detect. Among other variables, genetics, exposures, and timelines complicate simple cause and effect explanations. The work at the Child Health and Development Studies (CHDS) tackles research challenges with a cohort of over 15,000 that has been tracked for many decades. Such a rich data source is an incredibly valuable resource to further research that can answer questions about disease prevention at each stage of the life cycle.
Breast cancer remains one of the leading causes of cancer deaths among women of all races in the United States, and is a classic example of why exposures, risks, and outcomes can be so complicated to determine. After decades of study and millions of dollars, the mechanisms behind breast cancer remain unclear. Please join us for a conversation between Mary Pittman, President and CEO of the Public Health Institute, and Dr. Barbara Cohn, director of the CDHS and one of the nations foremost breast cancer researchers. Dr. Cohn's wealth of data and incredible research persistence have advanced breast cancer research immeasurably. The conversation will include information about the historical background of breast cancer research, current research controversy, and case studies that highlight both the challenges and successes of her efforts.
The lessons of Dr. Cohn's research and the work she oversees at the CHDS extend well beyond breast cancer. We hope you will join us to learn about the challenges and milestones associated with chronic disease research and prevention.






    Barbara Cohn, PhD, MPH, MCP
    Child Health and Development Studies
    Public Health Institute
    Berkeley, CA

    Barbara Cohn, PhD, MPH, MCPBarbara A. Cohn is an epidemiologist who earned her doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley in 1984. She founded the Center for Research on Women's and Children's Health in 1991 and became co-director of the Child Health and Development Studies in 1997 and the director in 2001.
    The Child Health and Development Studies has followed 15,000 families for more than forty years and is continuing with new studies of how events even before birth influence health across the lifespan. This study enrolled women during their pregnancies and has contributed important information to the determinants of health and illness in mothers and their children. The study has now become a resource for understanding the effects of early life on adult health and for intergenerational studies.  Cohn's current research examines how pregnancy protects against breast cancer and the health effects of exposures to hormonally active environmental chemicals. She is also investigating the effects of exposures to environmental chemicals before birth on the reproductive health of CHDS daughters and sons who are now having children of their own.
    Cohn has published dozens of papers in her field and received numerous awards for her lifetime dedication to this branch of science. (www.chdstudies.org)


    Mary Pittman, DrPH
    President & CEO
    Public Health Institute
    Oakland, CA

    Mary PittmanMary A. Pittman, DrPH, is chief executive officer and president of the Public Health Institute (PHI) in Oakland, California. A nationally recognized leader in improving community health, addressing health inequities among vulnerable people and promoting quality of care, Pittman became in 2008 PHIís second CEO and president since its founding in 1964. She has guided the development of a strategic plan that builds on existing PHI program strengths to achieve greater impact on public policy and practice in public health both in the U.S. and globally. PHIís areas of focus include childhood obesity, prevention, the implementation of health reform, global health, the impacts of climate change on public health, the social determinants of health, the role of technology in health, increasing advocacy for the publicís health, and health workforce shortages. Under her leadership, PHI has been recognized as one of the 50 best nonprofit workplaces in the nation.

    Pittman previously headed the Health Research and Educational Trust, an affiliate of the American Hospital Association, and the California Association of Public Hospitals. She received her doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, and masterís degrees from UC Berkeley in public health and city and regional planning. (www.phi.org)


The following documents are PDF versions of the speakers’ presentations and are intended to be used for reference only.

Cohn/Child Health and Development Studies



The following documents provide important background information that can enhance the Web Forum experience.


The following websites provide important background information that can enhance the Web Forum experience.

Three Generations Study (3Gs) :: Environmental Causes of Breast Cancer across Generations :: Child Health and Development Studies
Disparities Study :: A Lifecourse Approach to Emerging Health Disparities in a U.S. Cohort :: Child Health and Development Studies and Columbia University
Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program (BCERP)


The organizations listed below have come together to sponsor this important effort:

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Public Health Institute