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BCRF Grantee Since


Donor Recognition

The Aveda Award

Area(s) of Focus

Mary Beth Terry, PhD

Professor, Department of Epidemiology
Joseph L. Mailman School of Public Health
Columbia University
New York, New York

Current Research

Family history is a known risk factor for breast cancer, but few breast cancers within families can be explained by known gene mutations, such as mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Drs. Terry and Santella are pursuing multiple approaches to better understand breast cancer risk in high-risk families. In the coming year they will begin a study to evaluate environmental exposure to a class of chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) on breast cancer risk in young girls. Their other ongoing studies include assessment of DNA repair mechanisms as a potential screening modality for risk assessment, identification of blood-based biomarkers that can be used for early detection of breast cancer, and determining whether a chemical alteration of DNA, called DNA methylation, in high risk women differs from that in average risk women. Collectively, these studies may lead to better preventive and early detection strategies for women with a family history of breast cancer and concurrently advance our understanding of the impact of environmental exposure on breast cancer risk.


Mary Beth Terry, PhD, is a Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. She focuses her research on breast cancer and in the molecular epidemiology and life-course methods of the disease, in particular. She is a cancer epidemiologist with over 15 years of leading studies of breast cancer etiology specifically focused on the role genetics, epigenetics, and other biomarkers play in modifying the effects of environmental exposures. Dr. Terry currently leads four NIH grants through the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences that focus on following cancer risk within family-based cohorts. Her more recent work studying biomarkers, which can be modified throughout life, supports the assertion that selected markers of DNA methylation and other biomarkers are associated with breast cancer risk even within high risk families. Understanding whether biomarkers can help explain risk in higher risk women is important, as only a minority of women with a family history of cancer carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. Her work also focuses on measuring risk factors for mammographic density, a strong intermediate marker of breast cancer. In addition to her doctorate in epidemiology from Columbia University, Dr. Terry has a Master's degree in economics and previously worked as an econometrician and program evaluator for a number of government-sponsored programs. Dr. Terry teaches introductory and advanced epidemiologic methods at the Mailman School of Public Health.