Titles and Affiliations

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

Research area

To understand how early life behaviors influence future breast cancer risk and to refine risk assessment methods. 


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 (including diet, alcohol use, exercise, and sleep), 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. 

Progress Thus Far

Previously, Dr. Colditz found that dietary choices (nuts and fiber) during adolescence 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. In the last year, his team reported the combined effects of adolescent dietary intake along with alcohol intake on risk of benign breast disease, a risk factor for future breast cancer in young women. They found that higher nut intake in adolescence (including peanut butter) was associated with lower subsequent risk of benign breast disease and this protection persisted among women who drank alcohol. Adolescents who drank alcohol in high school or had a low intake of fiber almost doubled their risk of benign breast disease. This risk, however, could be attenuated by consuming nuts. 

What's next

The team will continue to study how modifiable factors such as diet affect or reduce the risk of breast cancer. In addition, they will examine how these factors affect the rate of transition between breast cancer states such as the progression from benign breast disease to 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 (www.yourdiseaserisk.wustl.edu) 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.

BCRF Investigator Since


Areas of Focus