Biography and research overview
Dr Minouk Schoemaker is a staff epidemiologist funded by Breast Cancer Now to conduct research into the causes of breast cancer. She specialises in investigating risk factors for cancer including factors related to lifestyle, medical conditions, hormonal and reproductive factors, and mammographic density.
Dr Schoemaker has a PhD in public health medicine, and Masters degrees in radiation biology and medical statistics. Prior to joining The Institute of Cancer Research, London, in 2000 she worked at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Most of Dr Schoemaker’s work is focused on the Breakthrough Generations Study, a prospective study of over 110,000 women in the UK who completed questionnaires and provided blood samples. Breast cancer results from the interplay of lifestyle, endogenous and genetic factors, and the external environment. Information on modifiable lifestyle and behavioural factors in particular could help women make informed decisions about their lifestyle and therefore potentially aid prevention. Working with teams led by Professors Anthony Swerdlow and Montserrat Garcia-Closas, as well as other internal and external collaborators, Dr Schoemaker is conducting research using the vast amounts of data being collected by the study. Areas of analysis include the effect on risk of cigarette smoking in relation to time of pubertal stages, pregnancy-related factors such as hyperemesis, factors related to melatonin (a hormone related to circadian rhythm), breast density and levels of endogenous sex hormones.
Dr Schoemaker will also be central to bringing together and analysing studies from four continents to investigate several unanswered questions about the causes of breast cancer in premenopausal women. Due to the lower rates of breast cancer in younger women, investigation of causation has been more limited than for postmenopausal breast cancer. Such investigation therefore needs to be done by pooling ICR research with similar studies done elsewhere. Questions to be addressed include why heavier women have a lower risk of breast cancer at premenopausal ages than those who are lighter, whether physical exercise has a protective effect on risk in this age group, and whether the raised risks observed soon after pregnancy depend on pregnancy factors and differ by breast cancer type. For this work she is collaborating with Professor Anthony Swerdlow at the ICR, Dr Hazel Nichols at the University of North Carolina and Dr Dale Sandler from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in the United States.