Hannah K. Weir, PhD, MSc
Senior Epidemiologist/Team Lead, Epidemiology and Applied Research Branch
Please give a short description of your branch or office and describe your work there.
The Epidemiology and Applied Research Branch is the principal scientific research unit within the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control (DCPC). We work with a wide variety of partners, both inside and outside of DCPC, to apply the best science to population-based cancer control efforts.
Briefly describe some of your recent work. Why is this focus or topic interesting to you?
Recently, I led a supplement to the journal Cancer,which was the culmination of work that spanned several decades. The supplement described trends in cancer survival by state, race and stage for 10 leading cancers. We described large racial disparities in cancer survival in the United States.
When I joined DCPC’s Cancer Surveillance Branch in 1997, data from National Program of Cancer Registries (NPCR) were not reported to CDC. I worked with a team to set up the NPCR’s Cancer Surveillance System, and I led the group responsible for producing the inaugural United States Cancer Statistics report.
In the early stages of NPCR, the registries only collected incidence data. Only registries funded by the National Cancer Institute and a few registries funded by CDC collected the data needed to calculate survival rates. One way to obtain these data is through a linkage with the National Death Index (NDI). I worked with colleagues from the NDI to make these linkages available to all public health surveillance systems, including cancer registries, at a greatly reduced cost. Now, all our cancer registries are doing these linkages, and we have gone from having data for a handful of registries to having survival data on about 90% of the U.S. population.
In 2008, I received the Constance L. Percy Award for Distinguished Service from the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries for my work in the cancer surveillance community in promoting collaboration between national and state partners in the collection and use of population-based survival data. I am very proud of that award.
Why did you choose to go into public health?
It was pure chance. I remember reading about epidemiologists in National Geographic when I was growing up. But I thought epidemiologists had to be MDs. After college, I went to the University of Cincinnati to pursue a very practical degree—a Masters in Industrial Hygiene. I took an introductory class in epidemiology and that was that. Epidemiology appeals to me because I get to explore data. Surveillance data can tell a very compelling story about the disproportionate burden of cancer experienced by disadvantaged populations.
What are some goals or hopes you have for your work in the future?
Now that the CDC collects incidence and survival data, we have the unique opportunity and responsibility to describe the large, consistent and persistent disparities in the cancer burden. These disparities represent a very large number of premature and preventable deaths in vulnerable communities.
I lived in Canada for many years before joining CDC and worked on the Ontario Cancer Registry at Cancer Care Ontario. I have continued to be involved with the Canadian cancer surveillance community through my work on the CONCORD studies (international surveillance of population-based cancer survival) as a CONCORD steering committee member. I am working with colleagues to compare cancer survival in Canada and the United States. Not only does Canada have a different approach to health insurance, but their approach to cancer screening is quite different. I think both countries have something to learn from the other’s experience.