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Michael C.R. Alavanja, Dr.P.H.

Senior Investigator

Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch


6120 Executive Boulevard
Room 8000
Bethesda, MD 20892


Research Topics

Our research focuses on interdisciplinary studies to investigate cancer risks associated with environmental and occupational exposures. Both host and environmental risk factors are examined, including possible gene-environment interactions. Studies also include testing and application of innovative methods of exposure assessment.

Lung Cancer

A series of population based, case control studies of lung cancer among smoking and non smoking women identified a number of new etiologic associations. Using an innovative technique to estimate radon exposure retrospectively, we detected a significant dose response between lung cancer risk and residential radon at levels commonly found in North American and European homes. Environmental tobacco smoke was also found to be a significant risk factor, particularly among half the population with a GSTM1 (null) genotype. In addition, risk of lung cancer was associated with dietary intake of red meat, especially when cooked well done. The heterocyclic aromatic amine, 2-Amino-3,8-dimethylimidazo[4,5-f]quinoxaline (MeIQX), formed in meat cooked at high temperature, was identified as a risk factor. A protective effect was related to regular consumption of fruits and vegetables. Women with pre existing nonmalignant chronic lung disease were at a 40% excess risk of lung cancer. Risks were also significantly elevated among women with a family history of lung cancer. In our Missouri study, we are continuing to examine p53 and other markers of genetic susceptibility to evaluate potential gene-environment interactions. We are working with investigators at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories to study the health effects of heterocyclic aromatic amine exposure from consumption of meats cooked at high temperature.

Carcinogen Exposures in the Agricultural Environment

Studies around the world have observed that farmers and other agricultural workers are at elevated risk of several specific cancers, despite lower overall mortality and, in particular, cancer mortality. In this occupational group, excess risks are observed for Hodgkin's disease, non Hodgkin's lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma, and cancers of the brain, skin, lip, stomach, and prostate. Work-related exposures suspected of contributing to the excesses include pesticides, sunlight, viruses, mycotoxins, well water contaminants, and a variety of other agents encountered in the agricultural environment.

In collaboration with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the Environmental Protection Agency, we are conducting the Agricultural Health Study to evaluate exposures that may be responsible for the cancer excesses. This prospective cohort study of about 90,000 participants includes licensed private pesticide applicators, their spouses, and commercial pesticide applicators. Cohort members are being followed to collect data on cancer incidence and mortality. An evaluation will also be undertaken on disease risks among spouses and children of farmers. The study includes detailed exposure analyses and assessments of non cancer health outcomes. Epithelial cheek cells are being obtained from cohort members as a source of genomic DNA. Markers of genetic susceptibility will be assessed in a series of nested case control studies. We are collaborating with investigators at the University of Iowa to evaluate pesticide exposures using fluorescent dyes and to study the epidemiology of injury among cohort members.


Dr. Alavanja received a Dr.P.H. from the School of Public Health of Columbia University. Prior to joining the NCI, he served as an Assistant Professor of Environmental Health and Epidemiology at Hunter College School of Health Sciences and as an epidemiologist and section chief at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. In 1983, Dr. Alavanja joined the NCI as a Special Assistant for Epidemiology in the Office of the Associate Director for the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Program. In 1996, he transferred to the Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch of DCEG. Dr. Alavanja received the PHS Meritorious Service Medal for initiating the Agricultural Health Study, the Outstanding Service Medal for work in quantitative risk assessment of environmental carcinogens, and two Commendation Medals, one for research on environmental causes of cancer and the other for studies of lung cancer etiology. He was a member of the NCI Intramural Advisory Board and is a Fellow of the American College of Epidemiology, serving on its membership committee.

Selected Publications

  1. Freeman LE, Rusiecki JA, Hoppin JA, Lubin JH, Koutros S, Andreotti G, Zahm SH, Hines CJ, Coble JB, Barone-Adesi F, Sloan J, Sandler DP, Blair A, Alavanja MC. Atrazine and cancer incidence among pesticide applicators in the agricultural health study (1994-2007). Environ Health Perspect. 2011;119(9):1253-9.
  2. Alavanja MC, Bonner MR. Occupational pesticide exposures and cancer risk: a review. J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2012;15(4):238-63.
  3. Barry KH, Koutros S, Lubin JH, Coble JB, Barone-Adesi F, Beane Freeman LE, Sandler DP, Hoppin JA, Ma X, Zheng T, Alavanja MC. Methyl bromide exposure and cancer risk in the Agricultural Health Study. Cancer Causes Control. 2012;23(6):807-18.
  4. Coble J, Thomas KW, Hines CJ, Hoppin JA, Dosemeci M, Curwin B, Lubin JH, Beane Freeman LE, Blair A, Sandler DP, Alavanja MC. An updated algorithm for estimation of pesticide exposure intensity in the agricultural health study. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2011;8(12):4608-22.
  5. Barry KH, Koutros S, Berndt SI, Andreotti G, Hoppin JA, Sandler DP, Burdette LA, Yeager M, Freeman LE, Lubin JH, Ma X, Zheng T, Alavanja MC. Genetic variation in base excision repair pathway genes, pesticide exposure, and prostate cancer risk. Environ Health Perspect. 2011;119(12):1726-32.
This page was last updated on August 8th, 2012