Skip to Content
Discovering the causes of cancer and the means of prevention

Michael Alavanja Retires from NCI

Michael Alavanja

In October 2015, Michael C. R. Alavanja, Dr.P.H., retired after more than 30 years with NCI. Dr. Alavanja is a leading expert in environmental and occupational epidemiology, particularly recognized for his work to identify pesticide exposures that may be responsible for excess cancer risk among farmers. He was a senior investigator in the Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch (OEEB) and a member of the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) (retired in 2008).

Dr. Alavanja played an important role in the design and conduct of the Agricultural Health Study (AHS), a large prospective cohort study of cancer and other health outcomes among pesticide applicators and their spouses from Iowa and North Carolina. In collaboration with investigators from DCEG, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Dr. Alavanja initiated AHS in 1993 with the goal of answering important questions about how agricultural, lifestyle and genetic factors affect the health of farming populations. Findings from AHS have provided key evidence used by regulatory agencies to determine whether specific pesticides cause cancer. In 1999, Dr. Alavanja received the U.S. PHS Meritorious Service Medal in recognition for his efforts and leadership of the study.

In addition to his work on AHS, Dr. Alavanja conducted a series of population-based, case-control studies of lung cancer among smoking and non-smoking women. These efforts identified a number of new etiologic associations. For example, investigators detected a significant exposure-response between lung cancer risk and residential radon at levels commonly found in North American and European homes.

Dr. Alavanja received a Dr.P.H. from the Columbia University School of Public Health. Prior to joining NCI, he served as an assistant professor of Environmental Health and Epidemiology at Hunter College School of Health Sciences and as an epidemiologist and section chief at NIOSH. In 1983, Dr. Alavanja joined NCI as a special assistant for epidemiology in the Office of the Associate Director for the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Program, and in 1996, he transferred to OEEB.

Dr. Alavanja has received a number of awards throughout his career, including the Outstanding Service Medal for work in quantitative risk assessment of environmental carcinogens, and two Commendation Medals, one for research on environmental causes of cancer and the other for studies of lung cancer etiology. He has received additional awards from the U.S. EPA, the NIH, and the U.S. PHS. Dr. Alavanja was a member of the NCI Intramural Advisory Board and is a Fellow of the American College of Epidemiology, serving on its membership committee.