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Darren Mays, PhD, MPH

The Ohio State University College of Medicine
Columbus, Ohio

Titles and Affiliations

Associate Professor, Internal Medicine

Research area

Creating a counter marketing intervention to reduce alcohol use in young women and measuring its effects on alcohol use behavior and breast cancer risk beliefs.


Alcohol use accounts for approximately 10 percent of breast cancer cases in women in the United States. Young adults (ages 18-25) are at even higher risk biologically and because alcohol use is common in this group. Unfortunately, few young women are aware that alcohol use increases breast cancer risk. Cancer research organizations have called for new ways to raise awareness about alcohol use as a cancer risk factor and reduce the amount of cancer caused by alcohol use. In the U.S., alcohol industry marketing contributes to high rates of drinking in young people and to their inaccurate beliefs about breast cancer risks. Counter marketing designed to offset industry marketing is effective for reducing cancer risk behaviors such as tobacco use, and it may also be effective for reducing alcohol use to prevent breast cancer, but it has not yet been studied for this purpose. Dr. Mays is undertaking a counter marketing project, conducted by a team of experts at five Big Ten universities, who are studying young women’s alcohol use as a target for breast cancer prevention.

What’s next

Dr. Mays and his team will engage young women to create a counter marketing intervention to reduce alcohol use and prevent breast cancer. They will use new methods such as artificial intelligence tools to create intervention content. Dr. Mays will then conduct a randomized trial to test if the intervention is effective for changing young women’s beliefs about breast cancer risks from alcohol use and their alcohol use behavior. The trial will use new methods that will advance this research area, including collecting daily data about alcohol use from participants’ mobile phones and asking participants to wear sensors that detect alcohol use. Together, these projects stand to advance breast cancer prevention science.


Darren Mays, PhD, MPH is an associate professor in the Department of Internal Medicine and Assistant Dean for Research and Tenure Track Faculty at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. He is also a member of the Cancer Control Program and Director of Training at the Center for Tobacco Research of The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center–The James. As a behavioral scientist, Dr. Mays studies the uptake and progression of cancer risk behaviors among young people, including tobacco use, alcohol consumption, and other behaviors with established cancer risks. Dr. Mays applies findings from this research to develop preventive interventions that are rooted in communication science, including messages designed for mass media communication campaigns and interventions designed for digital media delivery (e.g., mobile devices, social media). He conducts clinical trials to test the efficacy of these behavioral interventions for preventing and reducing cancer risk. Currently, he is leading collaborative research with investigators at five Big Ten Conference cancer centers to develop an innovative, counter marketing intervention and test the intervention efficacy for reducing alcohol consumption by young adult women as a breast cancer prevention strategy. Dr. Mays has published more than 130 research papers in public health, substance use, and cancer prevention journals and he has had federal and private funding support for his research throughout his career.

BCRF Investigator Since


Areas of Focus

Lifestyle & Prevention