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Discovering the causes of cancer and the means of prevention

DCEG Hosts Visiting Scholar Graham Colditz

July 2012 - Linkage Newsletter

by Saloni Nayar, M.P.H.

In December, DCEG welcomed Visit-ing Scholar Dr. Graham A. Colditz. Dr. Colditz is Associate Director for Prevention and Control at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center, Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital, in St. Louis, Missouri. He also is the Niess-Gain Professor of Surgery and Professor of Medicine as well as the Chief of the Division of Public Health Sciences within the Department of Surgery at the Wash-ington University School of Medicine. Dr. Colditz is renowned for his research related to the etiology and prevention of chronic disease and for his work with the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study.

Photo of Gretchen Gierach, Robert Hoover, Graham Colditz, and Patricia HartgeDr. Colditz received an M.B.B.S. from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and an M.P.H. and Dr.P.H. in epidemiology from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts. He later received his M.D. from the University of Queensland. Dr. Colditz has a longstanding interest in the causes and prevention of breast and other malignancies among women. From 1999 to 2006, he served as principal investigator of the Nurses’ Health Study, a landmark cohort study that follows U.S. women with questionnaire assessment of lifestyle factors and the use of biomarkers to assess risk of chronic diseases. Dr. Colditz’s expertise includes the formulation of cancer risk prediction models, including the “Your Disease Risk” model, which provides personalized risk estimates for cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Dr. Colditz has worked with state and national organizations, including NIH, to translate research findings into public health strategies for disease prevention.

Dr. Colditz has received numerous awards and honors throughout his career. In 2011, he received the American Cancer Society’s Medal of Honor for Cancer Control Research, which acknowledged his significant contributions toward understanding the causes and prevention of cancer. He also has been awarded the DeWitt S. Goodman Memorial Lectureship by the American Association for Cancer Research. He is a Fellow of the Australian Faculty of Public Health Medicine, a faculty of the Royal Australian College of Physicians. In addition, he is an elected member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

Patricia Hartge, Sc.D., Deputy Director of DCEG’s Epidemiology and Biostatistics Program, welcomed Dr. Colditz, who began his two-day visit with a seminar titled “Breast and colon cancer: Risk accumulation and prevention.” Dr. Colditz stated that more than half of cancer incidence and mortality could be prevented by applying current knowledge. His comments focused on his research on lifestyle factors, such as alcohol, which has been shown to be associated with breast cancer. He emphasized the role in risk accumulation played by the timing of exposures during a person’s life, noting that hormonal status and other exposures during adolescence may be particularly important. He remarked that “to maximize benefits, we must focus on biologically relevant time periods.” Dr. Colditz concluded with recommendations for ways to move forward with cancer prevention, including encouraging research to elucidate how best to communicate results effectively to the public and to encourage people to engage in health-promoting behaviors.

During his visit, Dr. Colditz participated in several meetings with DCEG scientists. Gretchen L. Gierach, Ph.D., Hormonal and Reproductive Epidemiology Branch (HREB), moderated a session on “Recent leads in breast cancer epidemiology”; Ruth M. Pfeiffer, Ph.D., Biostatistics Branch, led a session on “Topics and recent developments in cancer risk prediction”; and Mark Purdue, Ph.D., Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch, led a discussion on “Rapid follow-up of molecular epidemiology observations.” Dr. Colditz also met with DCEG fellows during a brown-bag lunch. The discussion, facilitated by Gwen Murphy, Ph.D., M.P.H., Nutritional Epidemiology Branch, and Cher Dallal, Ph.D. (HREB), touched on the role of epidemiologists in translating research into cancer prevention strategies.

Reflecting on his time as a Visiting Scholar, Dr. Colditz said, “I enjoyed the stimulating discussions during my visit to DCEG. I developed new ideas for potential collaborations and hope others did too.”