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Thomas W. Kensler, PhD

Full Member, Public Health Sciences Division
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Seattle, Washington

Current Research

  • Seeking to understand the role of diet during adolescence and future breast cancer risk.

  • Studies are focused on the effect of an inflammatory diet on markers of breast cancer risk.

  • These studies may identify new strategies to reduce breast cancer risk through healthy dietary changes.

Puberty and adolescence are times of rapid breast development. Studies have shown that external factors, such as diet and other lifestyle choices during adolescence, can increase the risk of breast cancer later in life. Dr. Kensler is conducting studies to understand how an unhealthy diet, one high in sugar, refined and processed food, may cause an increase in breast cancer risk.

Full Research Summary

Lifestyle factors can affect breast cancer risk. These effects can begin early in life, particularly during puberty and adolescence when breast development is at its peak. 

In previous work, Dr. Kensler’s team found that women who ate an unhealthy, inflammation-associated diet, as teenagers and young adults were at greater risk of breast cancer in later life. Conversely, those who ate a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet had a lower risk.

As a follow-up to that work, Dr. Kensler and his team are conducting studies to understand more about what biological factors might explain this association. They will compare the effects of these two diets: An inflammatory diet (characterized by high intake of sugar and refined foods, processed meats and trans or saturated fats) vs. an anti-inflammatory diet (characterized as rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes) on the development of benign breast disease and breast density, factors known to increase breast cancer risk. 

In addition, they will conduct a small trial in 20 young women to measure inflammatory markers and breast density before and after a 12-week dietary counseling program. 

These studies may identify new strategies to reduce breast cancer risk through healthy dietary changes.

Biography

Thomas Kensler is a Full Member in the Public Health Sciences Division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He obtained his doctorate at MIT and trained as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin and at the National Cancer Institute. After 30 years on the faculty of the School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins, he moved his primary appointment to the University of Pittsburgh in 2010. In 2018, Dr. Kensler moved his primary appointment to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, and has an Emeritus faculty appointment at Johns Hopkins.  

The goal of his laboratory is to elucidate the molecular mechanisms involved in the induction of cancer by chemicals to serve as a basis for the prevention, interruption or reversal of these processes in humans. A major mechanism of protection against environmental carcinogenesis is the induction of enzymes involved in their detoxication and elimination. To translate laboratory findings to humans, his group has conducted a series of "proof-of-principle" randomized clinical trials of broccoli sprout beverages rich in the phytochemical sulforaphane in populations at high risk for exposures to air- and food-borne toxins and carcinogens. They are now developing and validating biomarkers to assess the efficacy of broccoli-based interventions to block the DNA damaging actions of reactive estrogen metabolites in the context of breast cancer prevention. 

Dr. Kensler’s numerous awards include the AACR-American Cancer Society Award for Excellence in Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, Society of Toxicology Translational Impact Award and the National Friendship Award, Beijing, China’s highest award for foreign civilians. He has published over 350 research articles. He is a former chair of the NIH Chemo-Dietary Study Section and is on the editorial board of several journals.

BCRF Investigator Since

2013

Donor Recognition

The Estée Lauder Companies' Employee Fundraising Award