Cancer Epidemiology Research

A virus kills breast cancer cells

A virus kills breast cancer cells


Current projections indicate that the burden of cancer will increase from 10 million new cases globally in 2000, to 15 million in 2020. This public health burden will necessitate further research into the etiology and prevention of cancer. The primary goal of the Cancer Epidemiology Program is to develop new knowledge relevant to cancer etiology, diagnosis, prognosis, and prevention using interdisciplinary and epidemiologic approaches. The cancer epidemiology faculty have developed a rich research program including diverse cancers (breast, prostate, colon, head and neck, childhood, melanoma, esophageal, and bladder) and exposures (lifestyle, diet, genes, tumor biology, occupational and environmental, health care, screening, socioeconomic factors). Research spans etiology, survivorship, comparative effectiveness, and access to health care, with many studies emphasizing health disparities, especially among African-Americans. Several population-based studies in North Carolina have yielded high impact findings and contribute to large international consortia. Students in the cancer epidemiology program receive training in epidemiologic methods, biostatistics, related substantive areas, and cancer biology. Outside the classroom, students obtain an appreciation for interdisciplinary, collaborative research by working with diverse and strong faculty in the department, school, and Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Program Courses

Other Related Courses

  • EPID 772: Cancer Prevention and Control
  • PATH 225: Cancer Pathology
  • EPID 742: Integrating Biomarkers into Population-Based Research
  • EPID 743: Genetic Epidemiology
  • EPID 745: Molecular Techniques for Public Health Research
  • EPID 785: Environmental Epidemiology
  • EPID 815: Diet and Cancer
  • EPID 826 Introduction to Social Epidemiology

Seminar Series

Cancer Epidemiology Seminar, meets Fridays from 1:00-2:00 pm
Cancer Journal Club, meets monthly

Core Faculty – Research Projects

bensen_jeanetteDr. Jeannette Bensen: North Carolina-Louisiana Prostate Cancer Study (PCaP), Carolina Breast Cancer Study, and UNC Cancer Survivorship Cohort.

Dr. Kathleen Conway-Dorsey: Genes, Environment and Melanoma (GEM) study,  Carolina Breast Cancer Study (CBCS), I-SPY InterSPORE Breast Cancer Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy Trial, Mayo Clinic Benign Breast Disease study, and Carolina Head and Neck Cancer CHANCE) Study.

GGG_engel_larryDr. Lawrence S. Engel: GuLF STUDY, and an international study examining blood levels of organochlorines and aflatoxin adducts in relation to risk of primary liver cancer.

Dr. Marilie D. Gammon: Long Island Breast Cancer Study Project, Barrett’s and Esophageal Adenocarcinoma Consortium (BEACON).

Dr. Jennifer Lund

Dr. Jennifer Lund: SEER-Medicare, UNC Integrated Cancer Information and Surveillance System (ICISS), and other health care claims databases.

nichols_hazel_95x115Dr. Hazel Nichols: Collaborative Breast Cancer Study, National Institutes for Environmental Health Sciences Sister Study, the Cancer Research Network, and the UNC Integrated Cancer Information and Surveillance System (ICISS).

Dr. Andy Olshan

Dr. Andrew Olshan: Carolina Head and Neck Cancer Study (CHANCE), Carolina Breast Cancer Study (CBCS), and NENA childhood neuroblastoma study.

Dr. Charles Poole

Dr. Charles Poole: Epidemiologic methods in cancer epidemiology.

Dr. David Richardson

Dr. David B. Richardson: Studies of cancer among nuclear workers at several U.S. Department of Energy facilities, cancer among the Japanese survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

EPID_Whitney_Robinson_2014rDr. Whitney Robinson: Carolina Breast Cancer Study.

sandler_robertDr. Robert S. Sandler: North Carolina Colon Cancer Study, North Carolina Colorectal Cancer Care Outcomes Research and Surveillance (CanCORS) study, an NCI initiative to investigate the impact of cancer care processes on outcomes.

Dr. Jennifer Smith

Dr. Jennifer Smith: Cervical Cancer-Free Coalition, international studies of HPV and cervical disease.

Dr. Til Stürmer

Dr. Til Stürmer: SEER-Medicare, UNC Integrated Cancer Information and Surveillance System (ICISS), and other health care claims databases.

troester_melissa_2008Dr. Melissa Troester: Carolina Breast Cancer Study, Normal Breast Study.

Funding Opportunities

Training Grants:
Cancer Control and Education Program
Cancer Care and Quality Training Program
Environmental Epidemiology Training Program

Graduate Student Research Assistantships:
GRAs offer students an opportunity to gain research-related experience with program faculty and provide hands-on training with study conducts, analysis, and manuscript development.

Collaborative Groups at UNC (selected)

Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center
Carolina Population Center
Center for Environmental Health and Susceptibility
UNC Center for Gastrointestinal Biology and Disease
Carolina Center for Genome Sciences
Departments of: Biostatistics, City and Regional Planning, Dentistry, Medicine, Nutrition

Additional Information

Cancer Additional Information

The primary goal of the Cancer Epidemiology Program is to develop new knowledge relevant to cancer etiology, diagnosis, prognosis, and prevention using an interdisciplinary epidemiologic approach. The cancer epidemiology faculty have developed a rich research program including diverse cancers (breast, bladder, prostate, colon, head and neck, esophageal, childhood, and melanoma) and exposures (lifestyle, diet, genes, occupational and environmental, health care, screening, socioeconomic factors), and areas of investigation (etiology, survivorship, comparative effectiveness, access to health care). The research has an emphasis on health disparities, especially among African-Americans, including multiple population-based studies in North Carolina.

All program faculty are members of UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center (LCCC). The LCCC program in Cancer Epidemiology is directed by Drs. Olshan. In addition, Dr. Olshan directs the LCCC Rapid Case Ascertainment Core facility and the Biospecimens Processing Facility. The LCCC provides a hub for cancer research across campus and the Department of Epidemiology’s cancer epidemiology program faculty are actively engaged in LCCC’s activities. For example, Drs. Troester and Bensen are conducting research within the LCCC breast cancer SPORE grant and the Carolina-Louisiana Prostate Cancer Study. Drs. Olshan and Troester are participating in the multi-center consortium, AMBER, that is investigating breast cancer risk and outcomes among African-Americans. The LCCC hosts the Cancer Control Education Program training grant. Finally, the LCCC offers cores in rapid case ascertainment, genotyping, tissue procurement, and biospecimens processing that are heavily utilized by program faculty. LCCC also support the Integrated Cancer Information and Surveillance System (ICISS), a unique resource to facilitate research on cancer outcomes in North Carolina.

Learning objectives

  • Understand cancer statistics and the descriptive epidemiology of cancer;
  • Understand known risk factors and gaps in knowledge for the major cancers;
  • Understand the pathobiology of cancer;
  • Apply epidemiologic methods in the design, conduct, and analysis of cancer research studies;
  • Apply critical thinking in the review of projects and publications in cancer epidemiology;
  • Appreciate the interdisciplinary aspect of cancer including the contributions of basic sciences, clinical medicine, health services research, and the social sciences to the understanding of cancer etiology and progression;
  • Appreciate methods for cancer risk assessment and screening;
  • Appreciate the role and interdisciplinary methods of cancer control and prevention.
  • Appreciate the practical aspects of conducting research in cancer epidemiology

Available Courses

The learning objectives are met through formal coursework, mentored research training, and individualized study.

There are three formal courses in cancer epidemiology:

  • EPID770 Cancer Epidemiology and Pathogenesis,
  • EPID771 Cancer Epidemiology Methods, and
  • EPID775 Advanced Cancer Epidemiology

Students are also encouraged to enroll in additional related courses including:

  • EPID772 Cancer Prevention and Control,
  • PATH225 Cancer Pathology,
  • EPID743 Genetic Epidemiology,
  • EPID745 Molecular Techniques for Public Health Research, and
  • EPID815 Diet and Cancer.
  • EPID 690 Use of Biospecimens in Population Research


Training Grants Epidemiology graduate students can compete for predoctoral positions in the UNC Lineberger’s Cancer Control Education Program (CCEP) which trains pre- and postdoctoral fellows for careers as independent investigators in interdisciplinary and collaborative cancer prevention and control research.

New for 2016 is the Komen Foundation Disparities Training grant, “Breast Cancer Mortality Disparities: Integrating Biology and Access,” led by Drs. Troester and Olshan.

Graduate Student Research Assistantships Research assistantships (RAs) offer students an opportunity to gain research-related experience, develop close working relationships with faculty, and sometimes earn co-authorship on peer-reviewed publications. Information on the type of assistantships available and how to locate them is available from Student Services. A small number of RA positions are typically available in the Cancer program. Students interested in an assistantship should submit an application form (RA/TA Information), and should discuss this interest with their advisors.

External funding Students in the Cancer Epidemiology training program are sometimes able to secure funding through sources that external to the university. Below is a list of a number of the external sources from which students have received financial support.

National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences Predoctoral Fellowships
Minority Predoctoral Fellowships
National Cancer Institute Summer Program (DCEG)


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