University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI)

Cancer Epidemiology

Image of GlobeCancer epidemiology research identifies primary risk and preventive factors for cancer that can translate to cancer interventions. CEPP members conduct novel epidemiologic research across many cancer types, and employ state-of-the-art study designs and modern technology to quantify biomarkers as in vivo exposure dose measures of specific environmental or physiologic agents. Areas of emphasis include:

  1. Biomarkers of environmental and tobacco carcinogens in relation to risk of lung and other cancers;
  2. Dietary factors in relation to risk of digestive system cancer;
  3. Risk factors for breast and other hormone-related cancers; and
  4. Genetic and genomic susceptibility to cancer.

Selected Publications

  • Exposures to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from various environmental and occupational sources are considered a primary risk factor for lung cancer among lifelong never smokers, based largely on results from epidemiologic studies utilizing self-reported exposure information. In a prospective nested, case-control study measuring levels of urinary metabolites of a PAH and volatile organic compounds among lifelong never smokers, odds ratios (95% confidence intervals) for lung cancer risk for the highest quartile levels of PheT, 3-OH-Phe and total OH-Phe were 2.98 (1.13-7.87), 3.10 (1.12-7.75) and 2.59 (1.01-6.65) (all P trend < 0.05), respectively. This study demonstrates a potentially important role of exposure to PAH in the development of lung cancer among lifelong never smokers. (Yuan et. al., Carcinogenesis. 2014 Feb;35(2):339-45.)
  • Primary liver cancer (PLC) is the third leading cause of cancer mortality globally. CEPP members have determined the impact of agricultural reforms in the 1980s leading to diminished maize consumption and HBV vaccination programs in the 2000s on liver cancer mortality in Qidong, China, an endemic area of liver cancer. A population-attributable benefit of a 65% reduction in primary liver cancer mortality was estimated for this government-facilitated switch from maize to rice. Food policy reforms in China resulted in a dramatic decrease in aflatoxin exposure, which, independent of hepatitis B vaccination, reduced liver cancer risk. (Chen et. al., Cancer Prev Res. 2013 Oct;6(10):1038-45.)
  • S-adenosylmethionine is a primary methyl donor for DNA methylation. Aberrant DNA methylation is known to be an underlying mechanism for hepatocarcinogenesis. Dietary factors including betaine, choline, methionine, folate and vitamin B6 have an impact on circulating levels of S-adenosylmethionine. CEPP researchers conducted a case-control study to examine the relationship between hepatocellular carcinoma risk and prediagnostic serum concentrations of one-carbon metabolites. Serum choline and vitamin B6 were associated with a statistically significant reduced risk of hepatocellular carcinoma. (Butler et. al., Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2013 Oct;22(10):1884-93.)


Brand, Randall, MD
Lokshin, Anna, PhD
Bunker, Clareann, PhD
Marsh, Gary, PhD
Butler, Lesley, MSPH, PhD
O'Keefe, Stephen, MD, MSc
Cauley, Jane, DrPH
Schoen, Robert, MD, MPH
Diergaarde, Brenda, PhD
Talbott, Evelyn, DrPH, MPH
Ganguli, Mary, MD, MPH
Whitcomb, David, MD, PhD
Kensler, Thomas, PhD
Pharmacology & Chemical Biology
Yuan, Jian-Min, MD, PhD
Kuller, Lewis, MD, DrPH
Zmuda, Joseph, PhD