Neal D. Freedman, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Senior Investigator

Metabolic Epidemiology Branch


9609 Medical Center Drive
Room SG/6E432
Rockville, MD 20850


Research Topics

The role of tobacco and tobacco products in cancer and disease

It has long been known that tobacco causes many different types of cancer. Yet, the tobacco epidemic has changed substantially over the past 50 years. Thankfully, with concerted tobacco cessation and prevention efforts, the prevalence of smoking has decreased in the United States. Still, nearly 20% of Americans continue to smoke. In the past, more men smoked than women, and started smoking earlier, but currently similar proportions of men and women smoke, and they typically start smoking at similar ages. There have also been many changes in the design and construction of cigarettes. New and emerging tobacco products are also gaining popularity, including dissolvables, electronic cigarettes, and water pipes; yet whether these products affect health is unclear. We are working to determine whether changes in the tobacco epidemic may affect disease risk.

Diet, energy balance, and liver cancer

Liver cancer is sixth in cancer incidence and third in cancer mortality worldwide. Strong risk factors have been identified including aflatoxin, alcohol, and chronic hepatitis B and C infection, but data from several case series suggest that a substantial proportion of liver cancer cases in the United States lack these exposures. The liver is a major metabolic organ, important for the regulation of fatty acid, insulin, and glucose signaling. Diabetes and adiposity are consistent risk factors for liver cancer, suggesting an important role for energy balance. Diet may also be important, with proposed associations for coffee, red and white meat, fats, sugars, fruits and vegetables, and micronutrients. We are investigating associations of dietary and environmental exposures with liver cancer.

Gastrointestinal conditions and hormones in cancer

The gastrointestinal tract is the largest endocrine organ in the body. Although gastrointestinal and metabolic hormones play critical physiological roles, whether these hormones contribute to cancer risk has received little attention. We are investigating the role of these hormones and gastrointestinal conditions in cancer using large prospective datasets including the ATBC, NIT, and NIH-AARP cohorts, as well as SEER-Medicare.


Dr. Freedman received his Ph.D. in biomedical sciences from the University of California, San Francisco in 2004 and a Masters in Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health in 2005. He subsequently joined the Nutritional Epidemiology Branch of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics as a Cancer Prevention Fellow, becoming a tenure-track investigator in 2009. Dr. Freedman was awarded scientific tenure by NIH in 2015, and is DCEG's principal investigator for the Prostate, Lung, Colon, and Ovary (PLCO) Cohort StudyHe draws on his training in molecular biology and epidemiology to investigate the roles of tobacco, diet, and metabolic hormones in cancer risk.

Selected Publications

  1. Vogtmann E, Graubard B, Loftfield E, Chaturvedi A, Dye BA, Abnet CC, Freedman ND. Contemporary impact of tobacco use on periodontal disease in the USA. Tob Control. 2017;26(2):237-238.

  2. Freedman ND, Abnet CC, Caporaso NE, Fraumeni JF Jr, Murphy G, Hartge P, Hollenbeck AR, Park Y, Shiels MS, Silverman DT. Impact of changing US cigarette smoking patterns on incident cancer: risks of 20 smoking-related cancers among the women and men of the NIH-AARP cohort. Int J Epidemiol. 2016;45(3):846-56.

  3. Murphy G, Dawsey SM, Engels EA, Ricker W, Parsons R, Etemadi A, Lin SW, Abnet CC, Freedman ND. Cancer Risk After Pernicious Anemia in the US Elderly Population. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2015;13(13):2282-9.e1-4.

  4. Freedman ND, Park Y, Abnet CC, Hollenbeck AR, Sinha R. Association of coffee drinking with total and cause-specific mortality. N Engl J Med. 2012;366(20):1891-904.

  5. Thun MJ, Carter BD, Feskanich D, Freedman ND, Prentice R, Lopez AD, Hartge P, Gapstur SM. 50-year trends in smoking-related mortality in the United States. N Engl J Med. 2013;368(4):351-64.

This page was last updated on May 15th, 2017