University of Pittsburgh
October 31, 2007

Do Social and Environmental Factors Increase Likelihood of Breast Cancer?

Pitt hosts University of Chicago scholar for Nov. 7 lecture

Sharon Blake


Cell: 412-277-6926

PITTSBURGH—How does social isolation or neighborhood crime impact one's chances of acquiring breast cancer?

This question is the focus of a lecture to be given by Sarah Gehlert, professor and deputy dean for research at the University of Chicago Institute for Mind and Biology and School of Social Service Administration, from noon to 1:30 p.m. Nov. 7 at the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work, 2017 Cathedral of Learning, 4200 Fifth Ave., Oakland. Gehlert's talk, titled "Breast Cancer and Social Interactions: Identifying Multiple Environments that Regulate Gene Expression Across the Life Span," is free and open to the public. Lunch will be provided; registration is not required. For more information, call 412-624-6304

Gehlert is director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Health Disparities Research. She leads the project Social Environment, Stress, and Health, which includes a community-based study of South Side Chicago residents and investigates whether isolation and vigilance are factors in the social environments of that region's Black women, and whether those stressors lead to mutations of breast cancer genes.

"Our work at the center has to do with conditions like neighborhood crime and decayed infrastructure, which, in the absence of positive influences like collective efficacy among residents, can actually change gene expression," says Gehlert. "In our research, this means turning off the body's natural ability to repair mutations of breast cancer genes. In addition to differences in access to care, we think these influences from the social environment on genes help to explain the marked and growing increases in breast cancer mortality among racial and ethnic groups within the United States," she adds.

Gehlert is also associate director of the University of Chicago Institute for Translational Medicine and project leader of the Health Disparities and Communities Core of the Center for Disease Control funded Chicago Center for Excellence in Health Promotion Economics. She received a bachelor's degree in anthropology from Southern Illinois University, two master's degrees—in physical anthropology and social work—from the University of Missouri, and a Ph.D. degree in social work from Washington University. Her lecture is part of the Pitt School of Social Work Speaker Series.