About the Program

The Genetic Epidemiology and Risk Assessment Program of the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center leverages the combination of advanced molecular technologies, robust epidemiologic study design and innovative analytics to understand why cancer develops, how to best prevent cancer, and how to improve diagnosis, treatment and outcomes for patients with cancer.

The specific goals of the Genetic Epidemiology and Risk Assessment Program are to:

  • Understand genetic factors, environmental factors and gene-environment interactions in the causes of cancer in human populations
  • Understand the molecular epidemiology of cancer outcomes and survivorship
  • Develop and apply novel statistical and informatics methods for the design and analysis of genetic and molecular epidemiology studies

To support these goals, researchers in the program enroll large numbers of people in research studies, including patients with cancer and their family members, plus people who don't have cancer to serve as controls. The researchers then leverage the data and samples collected from the study participants to investigate genes and other biomarkers along with environmental and lifestyle factors to better understand how they affect the risk of developing cancer. The researchers also investigate how these factors influence patient outcomes once cancer has developed.

Results from these studies are used to identify new ways to prevent cancer, to identify people at high risk of developing cancer and to detect cancer earlier for curable treatment.

Study results are also used to enhance treatment for patients — to provide a more accurate prognosis, improve the efficacy of cancer treatments, decrease the toxicity of cancer therapies, identify new therapies, and improve long-term survival and quality of life.

The Genetic Epidemiology and Risk Assessment Program conducts research at all three Mayo Clinic campuses — in Phoenix/Scottsdale, Arizona; Jacksonville, Florida; and Rochester, Minnesota.

Program leadership

The Genetic Epidemiology and Risk Assessment Program is directed by James R. Cerhan, M.D., Ph.D., and Ping Yang, M.D., Ph.D.

  • Dr. Cerhan is a professor of epidemiology in the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science in Rochester, Minnesota. Dr. Cerhan, whose research focuses on identifying causes of lymphoma and other cancers in order to develop new approaches to risk stratification and prevention, is also principal investigator of the Lymphoma Epidemiology Laboratory.
  • Dr. Yang is a professor of epidemiology in the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science in Scottsdale, Arizona. Dr. Yang leads the Epidemiology and Genetics of Lung Cancer Program. Her research focuses on the epidemiology of complex diseases, including their causes, risk factors and natural history. Dr. Yang also studies how to treat complex diseases and how to improve quality of life for patients.