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Worldwide breast cancer causes more than 2 million new cancer cases in women each year, with age-standardised incidence rates more than three times as high in the UK as in China. Various reproductive factors (e.g. age at menarche and menopause, parity, breast feeding) have been associated with risks of breast and other gynaecological (e.g. cervical, ovarian and endometrial) cancers but it is not entirely clear about the extent that they explain substantial international variations in cancer rates.

This project will bring together and analyse data from three large cohort studies in China (China Kadoorie Biobank) and the 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 the aetiology of breast and other gynaecological 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/trends of different reproductive factors in Chinese and UK populations and their associations with other lifestyle factors and physical traits (e.g. adiposity);
  • to examine and compare rates of breast and other gynaecological 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 and other gynaecological cancers and their main subtypes in Chinese and UK populations;
  • to determine, using Mendelian randomisation approaches, the cause-effect associations of certain reproductive factors with female cancer risks;
  • to explore the likely mechanisms linking reproductive factors with risks of breast and other female cancers, using emerging multi-omics data;
  • to estimate the burden of breast and other 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 Oxford population Health. There are excellent facilities and a world-class community of population health, data science and genomic medicine researchers.


The ideal candidates will have a Master's degree in relevant area (e.g. epidemiology, statistics, biomedical science), with a strong interest in women’s health.