Public Health Sciences Division


PHS researchers, Phyllis Goodman, Drs. Cathy Tangen and Jeannette Schenk study the variations in prostate cancer biopsy patterns.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Public Health Sciences research aims to identify innovative strategies to reduce the incidence of, and mortality from cancer and other diseases

The Division of Public Health Sciences (PHS) is home to the first National Cancer Institute-funded cancer prevention research program in the country — and an important endeavor, considering that many cancers may be avoidable by changes in lifestyle. The Division was originally established within the Fred Hutch in 1975 as the Program in Epidemiology and Biostatistics. In 1983, it gained Division status coincident with the creation of the Cancer Prevention Research Program, the first NCI funded cancer prevention research unit.

Collaboration is at the heart of our research endeavor.  This includes the more than 140 faculty members who have appointments directly in PHS and those who have joint appointments in the Basic Sciences, Clinical Research, and Vaccine and Infectious Disease Divisions as well  those at the University of Washington.  Our scientists focus on finding creative and innovative ways to learn about the causes of cancer, determine how it can be detected early or prevented, establish new methodologies to design and assess biomedical research, and create computational models to address biological questions.  

A key component of our research is the population at large.  Be it using the cancer registry to learn about the incidence of cancer, working with regional organizations to increase fruit & vegetable uptake, or bringing participants in for exercise or nutrition studies, we cannot underestimate the importance of our volunteer population in our research. 

Out of our research comes prevention discoveries that can directly impact the community.  This includes discovering the link between hormone replacement therapy and breast cancer, effectively reaching out to individuals and communities to increase cancer screening and other healthy behaviors, using cell phone technology to deliver tobacco cessation programs, and bringing the topic of health disparities to the forefront of research.

Our research expertise in working in large trials has led to PHS being the home for many national data and clinical coordinating centers including the Women’s Health Initiative, the Early Detection Research Network, Population-based Research to Optimize the Screening Process, and SWOG as well as being the home of the Genetics and Colorectal Cancer Consortium.  

Our population based studies are only one part of the PHS research mission.

PHS lab scientists look for ways to take this population data and translate it to increase our knowledge about the biological basis of the disease exposure pathway and how this impacts clinical decision making. They do this through research in early detection and risk and exposure assessments, studying tumor biology, and developing new technologies that advance translational cancer research.

Our biostatisticians and computational biologists further our understanding through the use of statistical, computational and mathematical modeling methods. Our biostatisticians utilize statistical and mathematical principles to analyze biological and genetic data, and processes and evaluate diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive medical methods and practices. Computational biologists marry the purely experimental with the purely computational to increase our knowledge of basic biological functions and allow us to look at data, such as the human genome, in new ways.