Harvey Risch, MD, PhD, Is Honored for Pancreatic Cancer Research

Harvey Risch, MD, PhD, professor of epidemiology (chronic diseases), is the recipient of the $50,000 Ruth Leff Siegel Award. Risch has made novel, sustained, and substantial contributions to understanding the etiology and early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. 

In 2001, Risch recognized that because Helicobacter pylori does not colonize the human pancreas, bacterial effects on gastric acidity should modulate pancreatic cancer risk, a hypothesis that subsequent studies confirmed. More recently, Risch has worked on methods for earlier recognition and detection of pancreatic cancer, recognizing that models combining both risk factors and early symptoms could achieve sufficient specificity to begin to be useful in predicting incipient pancreatic cancer diagnosis. To do this, he has developed a novel analytic method to combine population-based case-control data with population cancer incidence data (from SEER) to enable the calculation of age- and gender-specific absolute risks of cancer development from case-control studies, which otherwise allow only the estimation of relative risks. 

Risch’s work has also demonstrated that aspirin usage, both regular and low-dose, cuts risk of pancreatic cancer by about one third. 

Risch received his MD degree from the University of California, San Diego, and PhD from the University of Chicago. After postdoctoral work in epidemiology at the University of Washington, Risch was a faculty member in epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Toronto before coming to Yale. His major research projects have included studies of ovarian cancer, pancreas cancer, lung cancer, bladder cancer, esophageal and stomach cancer, and of cancers related to usage of oral contraceptives and no contraceptive estrogens. Risch is associate editor of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, editor of the International Journal of Cancer, and a member of the Board of Editors, the American Journal of Epidemiology.

This article was submitted by Robert Forman on November 7, 2018.