Cancer Epidemiology Cohorts


Cohort studies are one of the fundamental designs for epidemiological research. Throughout the last two decades, cohort-based studies have helped researchers to better understand the complex etiology of cancer, and have provided fundamental insights into key environmental, lifestyle, clinical, and genetic determinants of this disease and its outcomes.

Findings from cancer epidemiology cohorts (CECs) are critical in many areas of transdisciplinary and translational research. CECs fall primarily within two categories. Cancer risk cohorts are longitudinal observational studies of healthy individuals, usually representative of a given population, which are followed up until disease occurrence and evaluated for a range of risk factors pertinent to cancer. These cohorts provide key evidence for the development of risk prediction analyses and models, prevention strategies, and guidelines.

Evidence generated by cancer survivor cohorts can provide information on the influence of genetic, clinical, environmental, and lifestyle factors on cancer survivorship. Such cohorts can aid in the design and testing of many therapeutic and health policy interventions. Large biorepositories established by these cohorts already support genomic and epigenetic studies, and are beginning to support proteomic and metabolomic studies.

More recently, many CECs, through cancer epidemiology research consortia, have become essential to support genome-wide association studies (GWAS) that have identified cancer susceptibility alleles of low penetrance and high frequency in human populations, as well as genomic determinants of response to treatment.

As new genomic regions are identified and their functions clarified, the accumulation of both retrospective and prospective exposure data affords opportunities for in-depth analyses of gene-environment interactions. Additionally, patient cohorts can provide the study populations and biospecimens needed as newer genomic technologies emerge to better examine determinants of clinical, genomic, and lifestyle factors of cancer prognosis and survival.

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Funding Opportunities

NCI is currently sponsoring the following Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) to support the Cancer Epidemiology Cohort infrastructure:

Core Infrastructure and Methodological Research for Cancer Epidemiology Cohorts - expires March 11, 2017:

All qualified cohorts are strongly encouraged to apply for membership in the NCI Cohort Consortium in order to participate in large-scale collaborations to pool the large quantity of data and biospecimens necessary to conduct a wide range of cancer studies.

Hypothesis-based research questions using data from cancer epidemiology cohorts are NOT appropriate for the above FOA. Such projects are expected to seek support through appropriate research project mechanisms (such as investigator-initiated Research Project Grant (R01) and Research Program Project (P01) mechanisms). Learn about other funding opportunities.

Limited meeting support is available to cohorts that participate in cancer epidemiology research consortia.

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Funded Projects

View a list of EGRP-supported cancer epidemiology cohorts, with links to their abstracts and publications.External Web Site Policy

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Research Resources

This list provides links to resources that may be of interest to cancer epidemiologists interested in or conducting cohort-based studies, but is not exhaustive. Access to resources is dependent on procedures outlined for each individual study or resource. Availability may depend on suitability of proposed research, collaboration with study investigators, ethical considerations, approval from a steering committee, etc.

  • Biospecimen Resources for Population Sciences
    This list provides links to biospecimen resources that may be of interest to cancer epidemiologists, but is not exhaustive.
  • Cancer Epidemiology Descriptive Cohort DatabaseExternal Web Site Policy
    This searchable database contains descriptive information about existing cohorts, including study design, eligibility criteria, enrollment numbers, numbers of biospecimens, and numbers of cancer and other health outcomes.
  • Cancer Epidemiology Consortia
    EGRP is supporting a growing number of national and international research consortia focusing on intradisciplinary and translational research on common and rare cancers. Cohort, case-control, and familial studies are included.
  • Cancer Patient and Survivor Cohort Studies
    This list provides links to cancer survivor data resources identified during an EGRP-sponsored workshop held in 2011 that may be of interest to cancer epidemiologists, but is not exhaustive.
  • NCI Cohort Consortium
    The NCI Cohort Consortium is an extramural-intramural partnership formed by NCI to address the need for large-scale collaborations to pool the large quantity of data and biospecimens necessary to conduct a wide range of cancer studies. It includes investigators responsible for more than 40 high-quality cohorts involving more than 4 million people. The cohorts are international in scope and cover large, rich, and diverse populations. Investigators team up to use common protocols and methods, and to conduct coordinated parallel and pooled analyses.
  • Cohort MetaData RepositoryExternal Web Site Policy
    The Cohort Metadata Repository (CMR) is a tool that documents data harmonization across cohorts. Variables from each cohort can be searched and compared to determine if harmonization is possible. Once harmonization has occurred, the harmonized variables and the specifications used to create the variables are also documented in the CMR. The CMR contains only metadata (variable names, formats, codes, descriptions) and no individual-level data. For more information on the CMR and how to use it, watch our archived webinar, Introduction to the Cohort Metadata Repository (CMR): A Data Harmonization ToolExternal Web Site Policy.
  • Nested-Cohort Software PackageExternal Web Site Policy
    NCI's intramural Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics (DCEG) has made available this software package for fitting Kaplan-Meier and Cox Models to estimate standardized survival and attributable risks for studies where covariates of interest are observed on only a sample of the cohort. Standard designs that can be handled by this software include the case-cohort and case-control studies conducted within defined cohorts. At this time, the software does not yet support nested case-control designs.
  • Public Population Project in Genomics and Society (P3G)External Web Site Policy
    This consortium encourages collaboration between researchers and biobankers by promoting harmonization of data; optimizing design, set-up and research activities of studies, biobanks, research databases and infrastructures; and facilitating the transfer of knowledge within the field.

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  • Joanne Watters Elena, Ph.D., M.P.H.
    Program Director, Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Branch, EGRP

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