Posted on September 18, 2017
William Anderson, M.D., M.P.H., retired from Federal service in September 2017 after nearly 20 years as a cancer surveillance researcher. His efforts to develop sophisticated biostatistical methods, with a focus on breast cancer, have led to important advances in risk modeling and understanding of cancer trends.
Dr. Anderson received his medical, clinical, and epidemiological training at Tulane University, and began his career in public health as a community-based hematologist and medical oncologist in rural northeast Louisiana. While a practicing physician, Dr. Anderson became fascinated with his observation that breast cancer outcomes in his patients were more heterogeneous than expected. Eventually he was able to address this clinical mystery—and its implications—as an investigator at DCEG. After practicing for two decades, he headed north for a Cancer Prevention Fellowship at NCI, later becoming a medical officer in the Division of Cancer Prevention. Dr. Anderson’s work at DCEG commenced in 2005, when he joined the Biostatistics Branch (BB) as a tenure-track investigator. He was promoted to senior investigator in 2012.
While a major goal of Dr. Anderson’s research was to clarify breast cancer heterogeneity, his work contributed to a better understanding of trends and etiology for several cancer types. Proving himself adept at bringing together interdisciplinary scientists to tackle diverse questions, Dr. Anderson developed a highly collaborative research program over his time at DCEG. Ranging as far as Denmark (several investigators at the Danish Breast Cancer Cooperative Group) and as close as the adjacent office at NCI (Ruth Pfeiffer, Ph.D., also a senior investigator in BB), these collaborations have resulted in a series of landmark cancer surveillance studies of breast cancer, oral cancer, non-cardia gastric cancer, and colorectal cancer.
Paul Albert, Ph.D., Chief of BB, noted, “Dr. Anderson has played a central role in the descriptive epidemiology research agenda within the branch and in the Division. Although not a biostatistician by training, Dr. Anderson has made important contributions to the development and implementation of new statistical methodology for understanding cancer trends and in risk modeling. His clinical perspective on all issues has brought an added richness to our research in BB. His intellectual rigor, high energy, collaborative spirit, and kind nature will very much be missed in the BB.”
Together with Philip Rosenberg, Ph.D., an early mentor and long-time collaborator, Dr. Anderson developed an array of statistical models and tools to study cancer trends and predict risk. They have been instrumental in the increasing popularity of age-period-cohort models, sophisticated analyses that allow scientists to track cancer incidence and mortality trends in great detail, yielding insight into the disparate factors underlying these patterns. Said Dr. Rosenberg, “Bill is one of the very few cancer surveillance researchers in the world who are able to combine novel statistical methodology with intimate knowledge of cancer surveillance and genuine clinical insight. I believe he has shown us the future of descriptive epidemiology. It has been a career highlight and privilege to work with Bill.”
Throughout his career, mentoring and teaching were central to Dr. Anderson’s work. Having held faculty positions at the Tulane University School of Medicine, the George Washington University School of Medicine, and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, he has been passionate about training the next generation of public health workers.
Dr. Anderson has served on the editorial boards of several journals, including Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, and The Breast Journal.