The Cancer Epidemiology (CE) Program contributes to reducing cases of cancer by gaining better knowledge of the causes of the disease and translating knowledge into effective, early detection and prevention.
Over several decades, research has indicated a role for certain exposures and susceptibility factors in the development of cancer. Observations from studies have potential use in developing new biomarkers of risk as well as in identifying populations to target in prevention and early detection efforts.
The Program objectives are:
- to identify and test biomarkers that may predict cancer risk and outcome;
- to examine the association of inherited susceptibility biomarkers with cancer risk and outcome; and
- to identify and validate promising approaches for the prevention and early detection of cancer.
The CE Program is involved in many areas of research all centered on meeting the above program objectives.
The second most common cancer among women worldwide, cervical cancer disproportionately affects minority and underserved populations in the United States. Moffitt researchers study the natural history of human papillomavirus (HPV), a known cause for cervical cancer.
Because little is known about HPV in men, Moffitt established the only multinational study of the natural history of genital HPV infections in men. The study enrolled and studied 4,300 men in Brazil, Mexico, and the U.S. This research provided important data on male genital HPV infection, including studies demonstrating the protective effect of circumcision on prevalence of genital HPV infections.
HPV Infection and Risk of Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer
Infection with cutaneous types of HPV may be associated with nonmelanoma skin cancers. Program members observed strong associations between certain types of HPV and squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) and established a reliable method for sampling skin for the detection of cutaneous HPV.
Polyomaviruses and Cancer
Program investigators examined the role of polyomaviruses in cancer development focusing on JC virus and Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV). They initiated studies of the newly identified MCV in relation to Merkel cell carcinoma and SCCs of the skin. Study results suggest that Merkel cell carcinoma and SCC patients have greater levels of MCV seroreactivity than healthy controls, especially Merkel cell carcinoma and SCC patients with MCV DNA in their tumor tissues.
Lifestyle Influences on Breast Cancer Incidence
Program members work to clarify lifestyle risk factors as well as gene-environment interactions for breast cancer. The group has a comprehensive research program focused on mammographic breast density as an intermediate breast cancer risk marker.
Epigenetic Biomarkers of Cancer Risk
The Program maintains a strong focus on discovering epigenetic biomarkers in cancer, focusing on cancer etiology as well as prognosis and potential treatment targets. The breadth of research in epigenetics spans lung, prostate, head and neck, pancreas, colon, anal, and cervical cancers.
The scope of molecular epidemiologic studies has expanded from a focus on candidate gene polymorphisms to comprehensive biological pathways and genome-wide approaches. CE’s involvement in these efforts includes studies on interindividual genetic differences.
Program researchers have initiated studies on genetic factors that may cause ovarian cancer, and they have contributed to the discovery of the first common variant associated with ovarian cancer risk. Such studies are critical to identifying women at elevated risk for whom appropriate interventions may be applied.
BRCA1 Gene Mutations and Cancer Risk
The early identification of those at high risk is an important goal. Tests to determine cancer’s association with gene variants are critical and especially important for developing prevention and treatment strategies for those at high risk.
Moffitt maintains an Inherited Cancer Registry (ICARE)
through which a group of patients with inherited cancer predisposition is recruited for observational studies and for recontact for future research efforts.
With access to large populations of healthy and high-risk individuals at Moffitt Cancer Center Screening and Prevention Center, the program is well positioned to identify and recruit patients for clinical trials.
Cancer Epidemiology Program Members
Peter Kanetsky, PhD, MPH