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Kala Visvanathan, MBBS, FRACP, MHS

Professor of Epidemiology and Oncology
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Baltimore, Maryland

Current Research

  • Seeking to improve early detection and prevention strategies for women with a high risk of breast cancer.
     
  • Projects are aimed at understanding the impact of environmental and lifestyle factors on breast cancer risk and outcomes.
     
  • These efforts will inform our understanding of the impact on modifiable risk factors and lead to evidence-based prevention strategies.

Breast cancer deaths have declined dramatically over the last two and a half decades, but the incidence of breast cancer–the number of new diagnoses each year–has remained stable. Furthermore, even after successful treatment, women can face a breast cancer recurrence, sometime many years after initial diagnosis. Dr. Visvanathan is conducting studies focused on improving prevention strategies and understanding the environmental and biological factors underlying breast cancer risk and recurrence. 

Full Research Summary

Dr. Visvanathan and her team have an overall interest to explore novel approaches for early detection and preventive strategies for both cancer-free women and women with cancer (i.e. primary and secondary prevention) and to increase study diversity to produce more generalizable results for all women.   

With the support of BCRF, her team is completing a number of projects that range from examining modifiable lifestyle factors, evaluating the impact of inflammation, insulin resistance and oxidative stress on breast cancer incidence and progression as well as other health outcomes, examining the interaction between cancer treatment and lifestyle factors (i.e. obesity and chemotherapy), and repurposing common medications, such as statins, to improve survival rates. 

A recent result from this work is that young breast cancer survivors have a higher risk of osteopenia/osteoporosis compared to cancer-free women. These results support the evaluation of bone density in young survivors.

Breast biopsies are frequently performed before and after a cancer diagnosis. This invasive procedure can cause anxiety, as well as discomfort. Dr. Visvanathan will explore the underlying factors relating to the frequency of breast biopsies to determine if there are ways to reduce the number of biopsies a patient needs to undergo.

Additionally, she proposes to extend her research to understand the impact of breast cancer and its treatment compared to other chronic diseases on long-term survival.

Biography

Kala Visvanathan is an Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Department of Medical Oncology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Dr. Visvanathan is Director the Clinical Cancer Genetics and Prevention Service and the Cancer Epidemiology Track at Johns Hopkins.

She received her medical degree from the University of Sydney in Australia.  She subsequently went on to complete her training in Internal Medicine and Medical Oncology at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, an academic teaching hospital of the University of Sydney in Australia and at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center Johns Hopkins School of Mediine. Dr. Visvanathan also completed training in clinical/cancer epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Her research is focused on primary and secondary prevention of breast and ovarian cancer. Trained as a medical oncologist and cancer epidemiologist, a large part of her research is transdisciplinary and focused on translating results from the laboratory to populations, to identify at risk groups, preventable targets and to evaluate agents that have the potential to impact the natural history of breast and ovarian cancer. She conducts both observational studies and clinical prevention/early detection studies Specific exposures of interest include hormonal exposures, inflammation, genetic and epigenetic changes, DNA damage/repair, obesity and oxidative damage. She has recently co-chaired the American Society of Clinical Oncology national guideline on breast cancer risk reduction.

BCRF Investigator Since

2004

Donor Recognition

The ANN INC. Award (a division of ascena retail group inc.)