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Julie Townsend, MS
Epidemiologist, Comprehensive Cancer Control Branch

Julie Townsend, MS

Please give a short description of your branch or office and describe your work there.

The Comprehensive Cancer Control Branch administers the National Comprehensive Cancer Control Program. This year, we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of this program, which provides states, tribal organizations, territories, and U.S.-affiliated Pacific Island Jurisdictions with funding and support to develop, implement, and evaluate comprehensive cancer control plans with their cancer control partners and stakeholders. I serve on the Scientific Support and Clinical Translation Team, where we focus on public health research and translate these findings so that they can be implemented by our programs.

Briefly describe some of your recent work. Why is this focus or topic interesting to you?

Generally, my day-to-day work involves analyzing data for research, surveillance, and evaluation projects. I also lead a couple of projects, and one focuses on young-onset colorectal cancer, specifically how health system data can help identify risk factors for this cancer. Some research articles have shown an increase in the rates of new cancer cases among people younger than 50. Some researchers have speculated that our current obesity epidemic is a contributing factor. People under the age of 50 years aren’t typically screened for colorectal cancer unless there is a family history or certain clinical conditions, like inflammatory bowel disease or ulcerative colitis. It’s important for anyone experiencing symptoms related to colorectal cancer, regardless of age, to see their health care provider right away.

Why did you choose to go into public health?

I read a book on virus hunters of the CDC, which opened my eyes to public health. My grandfather died from colorectal cancer, so I really wanted to work in cancer to prevent others from experiencing this tragic loss to our family. Originally, I thought I might go into medicine or pursue a career in biology, but a medical career often leaves little time for anything else, and lab work seemed pretty mundane to me. Epidemiology seemed like a perfect fit. I could use my analytical skills and interest in health to work on topics with larger population impact.

What are some goals or hopes you have for your work in the future?

I would like to continue to work on my analytical skills because I think it’s important to stay current in my professional field. One recent interest is in data visualization because it really helps tell a story that you can’t get by numbers alone. Data visualization can quickly identify populations that need the most help.