Black Women's Health Study

The Black Women's Health Study (BWHS) is an ongoing prospective follow-up study of health and illness among U.S. black women, with data collection and study infrastructure supported by the National Cancer Institute.  The study began in 1995 when 59,000 AA women 21-69 years of age from across the United States completed a 14-page postal health questionnaire. The median age at entry was 38, and participants were residents of 17 states in mainland U.S.: Northeast, 28%; South, 30%; Midwest, 23%; West, 19%.  The baseline questionnaire sought information on a wide range of variables, including demographic factors, use of medical care, family history of breast and other cancers, reproductive and medical history, current and past cigarette and alcohol use, current weight and weight at age 18, height, waist and hip circumference, use of vitamin supplements and medications, diet, and participation in exercise.  Biennial follow-up questionnaires ascertain new cases of breast cancer and other illnesses and update covariate information, including weight, physical activity, and reproductive history. The questionnaires have also collected information on family history of cancer. The study includes only women who self-identify as black.  Follow-up has averaged over 80% of the baseline cohort over 6 completed follow-up cycles.  Medical record and cancer registry data are sought for all participants who report a diagnosis of breast cancer.  Data are abstracted on year of diagnosis, histology, grade, tumor size, lymph node involvement, metastases, estrogen receptor status, progesterone receptor status, and HER-2 neu expression. BWHS data have been the basis of peer reviewed papers on breast cancer in relation to height, physical activity, parity, induced abortion, female hormone use, experiences of racial discrimination, hair product use, body size, dietary patterns, the LOX gene, and family history of breast cancer.

From 1999-2007, all living BWHS participants with known addresses were asked to provide a saliva sample by the mouthwash-swish method.  Samples were provided by 26,814 women, for a response rate of 50%.  Respondents were somewhat older than non-respondents, but were very similar with regard to geographic region, educational level, BMI, age at menarche, parity, oral contraceptive use, menopausal hormone use, and family history of breast cancer. These comparisons indicate that participants with stored samples are highly representative of all BWHS participants. 

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