You are here

Anne McTiernan, MD, PhD

Member (Professor)
Public Health Sciences Division
Member, Epidemiology
University of Washington
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Seattle, Washington

Current Research

  • Seeking to characterize the effect of weight loss and exercise on markers of breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women.

  • Healthy overwieght women are assigned to one of four weight loss interventions to determine if weight loss and/or exercise can reduce cancer-associated biomarkers.

  • These studies may be informative in assessing risk and developing prevention interventions.

Women who are overweight or obese are at increased risk for developing breast cancer after menopause. Overweight or obese women of any age with breast cancer have a poorer survival rate than normal weight women with breast cancer. Physical activity, on the other hand, is associated with reduced breast cancer risk and improved survival for women of all ages, but the reason for this is poorly understood. 

Over two-thirds of U.S. women are overweight or obese, and few are sufficiently active; therefore, discovering links among obesity, physical activity, and cancer-related biomarkers has high potential for reducing breast cancer risk and improving survival.

MicroRNAs are a class of small, non-coding RNAs that can control gene expression. Some microRNAs are altered in obesity or in breast cancer, but little is known about whether weight loss can beneficially change their levels.

Dr. McTiernan and her team are studying the effects of weight loss on 20 microRNAs related to breast cancer risk and obesity. 192 overweight/obese women were assigned to one of four year-long programs: 1) a dietary weight loss program, 2) an exercise program, 3) a combined diet and exercise program, 4) or a control group. She is now ready to assess changes in the selected microRNAs between study entry and completion (at 12 months).

Her team will look for associations between the profile of microRNAs, genes expression in the breast fat tissue and other breast cancer biomarkers. If weight loss significantly alters microRNA, it could help explain the biological association between obesity and breast cancer and lead to new treatment or preventive strategies.

The knowledge gained from these studies will help determine feasible lifestyle changes women can make to reduce risk for breast cancer and improve prognosis. This will be the first analysis of weight loss effects on breast cancer-related microRNAs in postmenopausal women.


Anne McTiernan, MD, PhD is a Full Member at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Research Professor at the University of Washington Schools of Medicine and Public Health in Seattle. Dr. McTiernan’s research focuses on identifying ways to prevent new or recurrent breast cancer with physical activity, obesity prevention and treatment, and chemoprevention. She is Principal Investigator of several clinical trials and cohort studies investigating the associations among exercise, diet, weight, hormones, chemoprevention agents, and risk for breast cancer incidence and prognosis. She was PI of the National Cancer Institute funded Seattle Transdisciplinary Research on Energetics and Cancer program that investigated obesity prevention and mechanisms linking overweight, obesity and sedentary lifestyles with breast cancer.

Dr. McTiernan is an elected Fellow in the American College of Sports Medicine, the Obesity Society, and the American College of Epidemiology. She has published more than 350 scientific manuscripts in major medical journals and is lead author of the book, Breast Fitness (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). She is editor of two academic texts: Cancer Prevention and Management through Exercise and Weight Control (CRC Press LLL, 2005) and Physical Activity, Dietary Calorie Restriction, and Cancer (Springer; 2010).  She has served on national and international health advisory boards and working groups including the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the American Cancer Society, the US Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, the World Cancer Research Foundation, and the Komen for the Cure Scientific Advisory Council.

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Delta Air Lines Award

Area(s) of Focus