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December 2022


The Million Women Study is one of the UK’s longest running health research studies. Between 1996 and 2001, the study recruited 1.3 million women, aged 50—64, through NHS Breast Screening Centres. In 2021 we reached our 25th anniversary – celebrating a quarter of a century of research into women’s health. We are grateful for the continued support from our study participants and our collaborators. Every participant is important to us. Your participation in the study has already allowed us to provide definitive evidence regarding the role of many common risk factors for cancer and other chronic diseases, and we continue to investigate known and emerging risk factors for diseases which are relevant to women in our cohort.


With great sadness, we announce that Dame Professor Valerie Beral, the founder of the Million Women Study, died peacefully on 26 August 2022. Professor Beral was a talented epidemiologist who generated much of the world’s best evidence on hormonal factors and female cancers. By combining data from relevant studies worldwide (including the Million Women Study) she provided reliable information about the health risks and benefits associated with oral contraceptive and HRT use. She also carried out research into modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease, fracture, and dementia. Read her obituary.


We are pleased to confirm continued funding from Cancer Research UK for our work on prevention and risk stratification for cancer. As part of this work, we are investigating whether digital mammography and other breast screening data can provide valuable information about a woman’s subsequent risk of breast cancer.


A full list of study publications can be found in the publications section of our website, but we have highlighted a number of key findings. Our research on ‘Survival after Ovarian Cancer’ revealed that even after accounting for stage, grade and tumour histology remain important predictors of survival. The findings also suggest that greater body mass index and smoking may be associated with poorer survival (Gaitskell et al, Cancer Epidemiology 2022).

From our research on social isolation and health, we have found that women who were more socially isolated were not more likely to develop heart disease or stroke than those who were less isolated, but they had a higher risk of dying from heart attack or stroke before reaching hospital (Smith et al, The Lancet Public Health 2021). 

Our research ‘Body size in early life and post-menopausal breast cancer’ showed that women who reported having greater adiposity in early life, and particularly in childhood, have a lower risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. This apparent reduction in risk was evident for all the main subtypes of breast cancer (Yang et al, BMC Cancer 2022).

Our publication “Cellular Telephone Use and the Risk of Brain Tumours: Update of the UK Million Women Study” found that neither daily mobile phone use, nor use for 10 or more years, was associated with increased risk of brain tumours overall, by brain tumour subtype or its location (Schüz et al, Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2022). During the COV ID-19 pandemic, we also took the opportunity to carry out an online survey of the impact of the pandemic on participants’ health and wellbeing. Over 44,500 women took part and we hope to make the findings available in due course. 

july 2019

save the date:friday september 13th 2019

For our next collaborators’ meeting, here in Oxford. As before, this will be a joint Million Women Study/AgeX breast screening trial meeting. Invitations to follow.

new postal questionnaire

Another postal re-survey questionnaire is currently being mailed out, twenty years after study recruitment. We are still getting a wonderful response from participants. Data collected repeatedly over many years is immensely valuable, especially now when supplemented by our online questionnaires.

branching out: participant interviews

One of the study Principal Investigators, social science epidemiologist Dr Sarah Floud, is piloting a new part of the study, interviewing women about their life experiences around retirement from paid work. The aim is to help assess the possibilities for health and lifestyle changes - and barriers to change.

...and a new particicant panel

Sarah is also setting up a new Participant Panel to help us as we further develop the study. The first meeting is planned for the autumn.

diet and breast cancer - few associations

The very large size of the study meant that we could look systematically at a wide range of foods, nutrients and dietary patterns- and we found that most were not related to breast cancer risk. By far the strongest link was an increased risk with increasing consumption of alcohol – as we had already found. Higher intakes of fruit and fibre were weakly associated with lower breast cancer risk, but these links may not be causal.
Key et al, 2018, Int J Epidemiology.

cancer risk in women breastfed as children - possible link with bowel cancer

Women in the study who were breastfed as infants were about 20% more likely to develop bowel (colorectal) cancer and bowel polyps in adulthood- but there were no differences in risk for breast cancer or for 6 other cancers. These are novel findings which we hope may lead to further understanding of how bowel cancer develops.
Yang et al, 2019, Eur J Epidemiology.

Smoking is associated with risk of interval, but not screen-detected, bowel cancers

Using linked Million Women Study and NHS bowel cancer screening data, we compared risk factors for cancers found by screening with those diagnosed in the interval between screens. Smoking was associated only with interval cancer risk- a finding which fits with other evidence that different types of bowel tumour have different risk factors, and are not all equally well picked up on screening.
Blanks et al, 2019, Int. J Cancer.

Thank you to all our participants, friends and collaborators for your continued support

For more of our recent papers, please visit the publications section of our website.

If you have any comments or suggestions, please email us on:


older newsletters

January 2018
December 2016 December 2015 October 2014 October 2013
August 2011 June 2009 December 2007 October 2006 July 2005
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February 2001 July 2000 November 1999 February 1999 June 1998
February 1998 March 1997