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Discovering the causes of cancer and the means of prevention

Rena R. Jones, Ph.D., M.S.


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Rena R. Jones, Ph.D., M.S.

Rena R. Jones, Ph.D., M.S.

Organization:National Cancer Institute
Division of Cancer Epidemiology & Genetics, Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch
Address:NCI Shady Grove
Room 6E124


Dr. Jones earned her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in epidemiology from the University at Albany (State University of New York) School of Public Health. She joined the Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch (OEEB) as a postdoctoral fellow in 2012, became a research fellow in 2014, and was appointed to the tenure-track in 2017. Dr. Jones’ work has been recognized with several awards, including the DCEG Fellows Award for Research Excellence, the DCEG Intramural Research Award, the NCI Director’s Innovation Award, and the Sallie Rosen Kaplan Fellowship for Women Scientists in Cancer Research.

Research Interests

Dr. Jones’ research focuses on the application of Geographic Information Systems and novel approaches to assess environmental exposures, especially air and water pollutants, and identifying and clarifying how these exposures may cause cancer.

Outdoor Air

A major target of her research is the role of outdoor air pollution in cancer etiology. Outdoor air pollution is a known lung carcinogen, but the specific pollutants driving cancer risk and etiologic mechanisms are not well understood. Along with OEEB Branch Chief Debra Silverman, Sc.D., Dr. Jones is pursuing some of these questions in the Southern California Ultrafines Study, such as whether ultrafine particles (UFP), primarily emitted from vehicle exhaust, are a cause of lung cancer. Estimation of participants’ exposures to air pollution in this study requires innovation in both data collection and modeling, and makes use of a state-of-the-art approach for retrospectively quantifying exposure to UFP and co-pollutant exposures.

Dr. Jones is also interested in cancer risk from exposure to industrial air pollutants, and is pursuing etiologic cancer hypotheses related to emissions of dioxins and furans as well as to air contaminants arising from large-scale animal agriculture.

Drinking Water

Dr. Jones is leading an effort evaluate the utility of bioassays in characterizing general population exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals in drinking water. She is also advancing research on emerging and environmentally persistent water contaminants, including disinfection by-products and per- and polyfluorinated compounds, and their relation to cancer.

Nitrate is a common water contaminant in agricultural areas that, while not a carcinogen itself, can form carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds when ingested. Dr. Jones has developed exposure metrics for nitrate in public water supplies, which she and collaborators are using to investigate nitrate associations with several cancers. Promising results from the Iowa Women’s Health Study cohort have motivated an effort to apply similar techniques in the Agricultural Health Study.

Exposure Assessment

A fundamental underpinning of high quality environmental epidemiologic studies is accurate exposure assessment. The development of estimates that adequately reflect exposure requires an understanding of exposure pathways, environmental transport, and persistence, all of which can have many sources of uncertainty, especially in retrospective studies. Dr. Jones takes several approaches to improving exposure estimation, including optimizing spatial accuracy of residential addresses, incorporating information from surveys and regulatory monitoring data, consideration of concurrent exposures and exposure mixtures, and validation studies to evaluate exposure models.

Dr. Jones is a co-chair of the DCEG Geographic Analysis Working Group, which seeks to advance the use of GIS and geospatial methods in epidemiologic studies of cancer.