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Worldwide breast cancer causes >2 million new cases in women each year, with the age-standardised incidence rate more than three times as high in UK as in China. Various reproductive factors (e.g. ages at menarche and menopause, parity, miscarriage, breastfeeding) have been associated with risks of breast and other gynaecological (e.g. cervical, ovarian and endometrial) cancers but the extent to which they explain the substantial variations in cancer rates remains unclear.

This project will bring together and analyse data from three large cohort studies in China (China Kadoorie Biobank) and UK (Million Women Study and UK Biobank), involving a total of about 2 million women. Long-term follow up in these three cohorts has already recorded ~100,000 well-characterised breast cancer cases. These, together with a wide-range of similarly recorded reproductive factors, will enable reliable investigation of the roles of reproductive factors in aetiology of breast cancer and other female cancers in diverse populations. 


The specific DPhil project will be developed according to the candidate’s interests and aptitude, and may cover some of the following objectives:

  • To characterise and compare patterns of and trends in different reproductive factors in Chinese and UK populations and their associations with other lifestyle factors (e.g. smoking) and physical traits (e.g. adiposity);
  • To examine and compare rates of breast cancer and other female cancers in Chinese and UK populations, overall and by age, birth cohort, education, etc.;
  • To assess and compare associations of different reproductive factors with risks of breast cancer and other female cancers and their main subtypes in Chinese and UK populations;
  • To determine, using Mendelian randomisation approach, cause-effect associations of certain reproductive factors with female cancer risks;
  • To explore the likely mechanisms linking reproductive factors with risks of breast cancer and other female cancers, using emerging multi-omics data;
  • To estimate the burden of breast cancer and gynaecological cancers attributable to reproductive factors in each population, and the proportion of international differences in incidence explained by reproductive factors.

The student will work within a multi-disciplinary team, and will have in-house training in systematic literature review, study design and planning, data analysis and scientific writing, and attendance of relevant courses if required. By the end of the DPhil, the student will be competent to plan, undertake and interpret analyses of large datasets, and to report research findings, including publications in peer-reviewed journals and presentation at conferences.


The student will be based in NDPH. There are excellent facilities and a world-class community of population health, data science and genomic medicine researchers.


Candidates should have a good first degree (2.1) and MSc in epidemiology, statistics, biomedical science, or a related discipline, with a strong interest in women’s health.