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Celeste Leigh Pearce, PhD, MPH

University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Titles and Affiliations

Professor, Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health
Rogel Scholar and Cancer Control and Population Science Program Co-Leader
University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center

Health Equity Initiative

Research area

Investigating the drivers of breast cancer in Black women.


In the last 30 years, deaths from breast cancer have declined by 43 percent. Yet, that tremendous progress has not been experienced equally and certain populations are at higher risk for worse breast cancer outcomes. Black women in particular face stark, sobering, and unacceptable disparities. They are diagnosed at younger ages and at more advanced stages of breast cancer, are diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer at two times the incidence and—despite being diagnosed at similar rates—are 41 percent more likely to die from their breast cancer than non-Hispanic white women. Eliminating racial disparities in breast cancer incidence, diagnosis, and treatment is an urgent priority.

With generous support from the Estée Lauder Companies Charitable Foundation, BCRF launched the Health Equity Initiative—Breast Cancer Drivers in Black Women: Society to Biology—to address the existing breast cancer mortality gap between white women and Black women. In this era of personalized medicine, BCRF’s goal is to significantly reduce breast cancer disparities and improve outcomes among Black women by advancing personalized, evidence-based care.

One of the major barriers is that Black women are an understudied population, comprising less than 5 percent of patients enrolled in cancer clinical trials where their experience could inform treatment recommendations. Furthermore, single institution studies of Black women are too small in both size and scope to address the complex interactions between race, heredity, genetics, environment, socioeconomic and cultural factors that impact breast cancer risk, biology, and outcomes. As more women are diagnosed with breast cancer, even more are likely to experience the injustice of worse, and preventable, health outcomes. And this poses a significant challenge as the underlying causes of breast cancer disparities are complex and multifactorial. The Health Equity Initiative will address this unmet need and work to close the disparities gap.

What’s next

BCRF has convened leading breast cancer investigators to participate in the Health Equity Initiative, including Dr. Pearce who has considerable expertise in epidemiology with a primary focus on translational research to reduce cancer incidence, mortality, and improve outcomes for survivors. These researchers are conducting a comprehensive study to examine the interaction of comorbidities, social determinants of health, and breast cancer genetics in Black women in a bold and novel way. This multi-center effort will enable researchers and clinical trialists across the U.S. to assemble a large database of contemporary SDoH and genetic profiles in Black women with breast cancer. Coupled with treatment and outcomes data this database will allow investigators to develop a comprehensive picture that captures the heterogeneity of breast cancer in Black women.


Celeste Leigh Pearce, PhD, MPH is a Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. She is also the Rogel Scholar and Co-Leader for the Cancer Control and Population Science Program at University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. Her research has been focused on the prevention of ovarian, breast, and cervical cancers for more than 20 years, with continuous federal funding to support her work throughout her career. She is a founding and steering committee member of the Ovarian Cancer Association Consortium (OCAC) and the Multidisciplinary Ovarian Cancer Outcomes Group (MOCOG). Through these two collaborative multidisciplinary efforts, she has made major contributions to understanding lifetime risk of ovarian cancer among average risk women, hormonal and genetic exposures in ovarian cancer risk, and exceptional survival with ovarian cancer. She has also carried out micro clinical trials to understand the role of hormonal exposures on normal breast biology. Her view is that by understanding the impact of hormonal exposures at a cellular level, it will be possible to develop breast cancer prevention strategies.

Dr. Pearce currently leads several studies in the field designed to have an impact on identifying risk factors for cancer, detecting disease early, and improving survivorship: Principal Investigator (PI) on the Michigan Cancer and Research on the Environment Study (MI-CARES) which is a longitudinal study of environmental exposures and cancer risk that will ultimately enroll 100,000 people; PI on the Surviving Ovarian Cancer–Innovation, Advancement, and Living Well (SOCIAL) which aims to understand the impact of newer treatments on quality of life and the role of stress and inflammation on outcomes among people with ovarian cancer. She is also leading a study to evaluate the use of HPV self-sampling in the Middle Eastern and North African population in the U.S. to improve cervical cancer screening access. Lastly, Dr. Pearce’s team has just launched YO MI-CARES which is focused on understanding environmental risk factors and risk of young-onset breast cancer.

Throughout her career, Dr. Pearce has championed “team science” and will continue to train the next generation of cancer researchers in order to prevent cancer and improve the lives of those with the disease.

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

Estée Lauder Companies Charitable Foundation