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Graham A. Colditz, DrPH, MD, MPH

Niess-Gain Professor of Surgery and Professor of Medicine
Chief, Division of Public Health Sciences, Department of Surgery
Associate Director Prevention and Control
Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center
Deputy Director, Institute for Public Health
Washington University School of Medicine
St. Louis, Missouri

Current Research

Goal: To understand how early life behaviors influence future breast cancer risk.

Impact: Dr. Colditz is studying the effects of early-life behaviors, including diet, alcohol use, exercise, and sleep on future risk of breast cancer. His findings could help inform prevention strategies to reduce breast cancer risk starting early in life.

What’s next: He and his team will examine dietary patterns in adolescence and how they relate to the risk of premalignant (benign) breast lesions. They also plan to assess the timing of physical activity in childhood and adolescence and its impact on the risk of breast cancer.

Up to 30 percent of breast cancers could be prevented by lifestyle choices, particularly those that support a healthy weight, such as diet and exercise. While many investigations have been focused on adult lifestyle factors and risk of breast cancer, the choices made in childhood and adolescence can also have long-term impact on breast cancer risk. Dr. Colditz is focusing on this population and investigating the components of diet and adolescent lifestyle that contribute to breast cancer risk. 

Full Research Summary

Research area: Identifying potential prevention strategies to reduce breast cancer risk starting early in life.

Impact: It is estimated that nearly a third of breast cancers could be prevented by lifestyle choices, particularly those that support and maintain a healthy weight, including diet and exercise. Dr. Colditz is focused on how those choices, when made during childhood and adolescence, impact a person’s future risk of breast cancer. His studies may lead to the development of targeted interventions and strategies to promote a healthy lifestyle in young adults to reduce the risk of breast cancer.

Current investigation: He and his team are evaluating the relationship of childhood and adolescent lifestyle factors on breast cancer risk specifically focusing on how growth velocity and mammographic density affect lifetime risk of breast cancer. 

What he’s learned so far: Previously, Dr. Colditz has shown that dietary choices (nuts and fiber) may counter the effect of alcohol consumption on breast cancer risk: girls who drank alcohol and consumed nuts or had a higher than normal intake of dietary fiber had a significantly lower risk of breast cancer than those who did not consume nuts or who had a diet with lower fiber.  

What’s next: The team will continue to study how diet can modify or reduce the risk of breast cancer. In addition, they will continue their studies examining the association of dietary patterns in adolescence with the risk of premalignant (benign) breast lesions, as well as how the timing of physical activity in childhood and adolescence impacts the future risk of breast cancer.


Dr. Colditz is an epidemiologist and public health expert with a longstanding interest in the causes and prevention of chronic disease, particularly among women. With a commitment to identifying strategies for prevention of breast cancer, Dr. Colditz studies benign breast disease and other markers for risk of breast cancer. Dr. Colditz described the increase in risk of breast cancer with use of combined estrogen plus progestin therapy and a significant increase in risk with increasing duration of use. Mortality from breast cancer was also elevated among current users (NEJM 1995). These data were confirmed by the WHI. He documented in prospective data the importance of proliferative benign lesions and risk of subsequent breast cancer (JAMA 1992; NEJM 1999) and the potential for childhood and adolescent diet, alcohol, and adiposity to modify risk of premalignant and invasive breast cancers. His research continues to focus on this time period in women’s lives and prevention of breast cancer. He is among the most highly cited medical researchers in the world.

Dr. Colditz developed the award-winning Your Disease Risk website ( which communicates tailored prevention messages to the public. He has published over 1100 peer-reviewed publications, six books and contributed to reports for the National Academy of Medicine and National Academies of Science.

Dr. Colditz has served in numerous leadership roles. He was the editor-in-chief of the journal Cancer Causes and Control and has contributed to reports of the Surgeon General on Tobacco and Health. In October 2006, on the basis of professional achievement and commitment to public health, Dr. Colditz was elected to membership of the Institute of Medicine (now National Academy of Medicine), an independent body that advises the U.S. government on issues affecting public health. He received the ACS Medal of Honor in 2011, the AACR-AACS award in 2012, and the ACSO-ACS award in 2014, all recognizing his research in cancer prevention and control.

Grid Researcher Headshot - Colditz G

BCRF Investigator Since


Area(s) of Focus