UW News

October 25, 2001

Hormone therapy and cancer: Public Health’s Distinguished Faculty Lecture features Noel Weiss speaking on a quarter-century of studies

Questions about cancer have been linked, almost from the beginning, to the use of hormone replacement therapy for women after menopause.

Scientists have long understood that taking unopposed estrogens – estrogens without a progestogen – can cause proliferation of cells in the endometrium, the lining of the uterus. Because of the link between growth of cells in general and development of malignancies, researchers suspected that using estrogens could cause endometrial cancer.

Dr. Noel Weiss, professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health and Community Medicine and a member of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, first confirmed this suspicion in 1975. His analysis showed a sharp increase in the incidence of endometrial cancer in the United States, an increase that paralleled a sharp increase in estrogen use among American women.

Weiss will speak about his work at a Distinguished Faculty Lecture sponsored by the School of Public Health and Community Medicine. The event begins at 3 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 30, in room D-209 of the Health Sciences Center. Weiss will speak at 3:30 p.m. His topic is “Postmenopausal Hormone Therapy and the Incidence of Endometrial Cancer.”

Since his initial studies in the 1970s, he has continued to investigate the relationship between cancer and different doses and methods of hormone therapy, working with various colleagues. Since the 1980s, combination therapy using both estrogen and progestogen has been used. Weiss is now focusing on long-term effects of continuous combined therapy, which is the most commonly prescribed. His group is also trying to identify genetic characteristics that make some women susceptible to hormone-related endometrial cancer, while others are not.

Weiss did his undergraduate work and earned an M.D. degree from Stanford University. He then went to Harvard’s School of Public Health, where he completed a doctor of public health degree in 1971, specializing in epidemiology and biostatistics.

He came to the UW in 1973 as head of the Cancer Surveillance System at the Hutchinson Center and assistant professor in the UW Department of Epidemiology. From 1984 until 1993, he was chair of epidemiology.