Associate Professor and Associate Chair, Department of Epidemiology
University of Michigan
Dr. Pearce is an ovarian cancer epidemiologist who studies lifestyle, personal, environmental and genetic factors which influence disease risk. Her group focuses on the role of endometriosis in ovarian cancer risk as well as shared risk factors between the two diseases. The clear cell and endometrioid histotypes of ovarian cancer are associated with endometriosis and it is possible that these ovarian cancers arise from endometriosis. They have identified a shared genetic component between ovarian cancer and endometriosis. They are also currently exploring whether known protective factors such as oral contraceptive use modify the relationship between ovarian cancer and endometriosis.
Another area of investigation for her group is understanding exogenous hormonal factors with respect to ovarian cancer. Oral contraceptive pills are chemopreventive for ovarian cancer, but the reason is unknown. They are carrying out clinical trials to try to uncover the reason for the protection so that they know whether changes in types of oral contraceptives in current use will impact the protective benefit enjoyed by women using the pill today. Conversely, use of menopausal hormone therapy is associated with increased risk of ovarian cancer. Her team is working to understand the precise nature of the association with respect to the type, timing and duration of use of these hormones. They are also studying whether the risk associated with menopausal hormone therapy is different based on underlying genetic variation.
Ultimately, Dr. Pearce is interested in preventing ovarian cancer. It is clear that the best path for ovarian cancer is preventing the disease from occurring in the first place or detecting it early. They have shown that there is a wide range of lifetime risk of ovarian cancer among women in the general population based on their experiences with respect to ovarian cancer risk and protective factors. They are working on developing improved risk stratification models so that women and their doctors can make informed decisions about the preventive strategies available to them now. In addition, this work will identify women appropriate for screening if an effective modality is discovered.
Dr. Pearce earned her PhD at the University of Southern California and had extensive training in genetics at what is now the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. She is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology in the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan. She collaborates with investigators from all over the world and is a founding member of the Ovarian Cancer Association Consortium and the Multidisciplinary Ovarian Cancer Outcomes Group. Consortia broaden the impact we can all have on ovarian cancer and she is proud to be a part of these multidisciplinary efforts!