Catherine Schairer Retires from DCEG
Catherine Schairer, Ph.D., M.S., senior staff scientist in the Metabolic Epidemiology Branch (MEB), retired from DCEG in September 2019, after 37 years of service. Dr. Schairer is best known for her work on female breast cancer.
Dr. Schairer earned her Master of Science in biostatistics from the University of California, Los Angeles, before joining DCEG as a health statistician in 1982. She earned her doctorate in epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland after receiving a long-term training fellowship from the National Cancer Institute. She has worked as an epidemiologist in the division since 1993, primarily in the Biostatistics Branch, and more recently in MEB.
Dr. Schairer has made integral contributions to the division’s study of breast cancer in two major areas: risk associated with exogenous menopausal hormone use and the etiology of inflammatory breast cancer. She was a co-principal investigator of the Breast Cancer Detection Demonstration Project Follow-up Study, the aim of which is to ascertain, through questionnaires, information from participants on cancer diagnoses, benign breast procedures, and exposure to established and potential cancer risk factors. In 1996 she received a National Institutes of Health Merit Award for her work on menopausal estrogen-progestin replacement therapy and breast cancer risk based on this and other studies. Her work was among the first to identify the increased risk of breast cancer associated with the estrogen-progestin combination and contributed to changing the prescribing patterns for this drug combination.
More recently, Dr. Schairer focused on the etiology of inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), a rare but particularly aggressive and under-studied form of breast cancer characterized by diffuse erythema (skin redness) and edema (swelling) of the breast, frequently with no underlying tumor mass. Using data from the NCI SEER program, she identified the particularly high risk of a contralateral breast cancer after IBC compared to other breast cancers at a comparable stage. In collaboration with others, she examined rates by socioeconomic status and trends in risk over time. Using data from the Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium, she noted the particularly high risk of IBC associated with obesity. She led studies of inflammatory breast cancer in North Africa through political revolutions in both Egypt and Tunisia and in the Cancer Research Network in the United States. Both studies identified potential new risk factors for IBC. DNA retrieved from the North Africa study will contribute to the study of breast cancer genetics through genome-wide association studies by creating a large and diverse resource of breast cancer cases and controls in the Confluence Project.
In addition to her research contributions, which include over 170 published manuscripts and many lectures, Dr. Schairer’s tenure in DCEG has been characterized by service. She received the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics Mentoring Award in 1998. She has also served on several committees, and since 2011 has been Chair of the National Cancer Institute Special Studies Institutional Review Board (IRB), for which she received the DCEG Special Recognition Award in 2019.
“Cathy’s leadership of the Special Studies IRB was exemplary and was critical in allowing DCEG to maintain and grow its crucial portfolio of national and international studies that presented human subjects protection challenges distinct from those faced by clinical researchers,” said Christian Abnet, Ph.D., Chief and senior investigator in MEB. “Her work ensured that all DCEG activities met the highest ethical standards and will serve as a guidepost for our work in the future.”