Dr Christine Friedenreich
O. Harold Warwick Prize co-recipient in 2013
Dr Christine Friedenreich is an international leader on the association between physical activity and cancer etiology (causes of the disease) and survival. She is well respected for her ability to tackle important questions about this research topic and has developed new methods to enable this research by combining observational and experimental methods. Exemplified in the ALPHA (Alberta physical activity and breast cancer prevention) trial, Dr Friedenreich has shown that physical activity can provide benefits in reducing cancer.
The findings from the ALPHA trial led her to conduct the ongoing BETA trial, a randomized controlled trial that is examining how physical activity influences biomarkers which may to explain how exercise reduces breast cancer risk. This study is the first that is examining how different amounts of exercise influence breast cancer risk.
Since 1995, Dr Friedenreich has conducted over 35 studies of physical activity and cancer. The influence of her work is evident from her record of over 160 publications, 14 of which have been cited more than 100 times – including one landmark review article which has been cited more than 300 times. In total, her papers have been cited more than 6,000 times.
Dr Friedenreich is currently the Head, Division of Preventive Oncology in the University of Calgary’s Department of Oncology and the scientific leader of Population Health Research at CancerControl Alberta. She also holds the Alberta Cancer Foundation’s Weekend to End Women’s Cancers Breast Cancer Chair at the University of Calgary and is the recipient of an Alberta Innovates-Health Solutions Health Senior Scholar Award.
Throughout her career, Dr Friedenreich has demonstrated her intellectual agility by taking diverse methodological approaches to the study of cancer etiology, resulting in high impact findings. The quality of her research output, combined with her long history of scientific collaboration and dedication to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, has helped raise the international profile of Canadian epidemiology. In addition to her established reputation as a researcher of excellence, Dr Friedenreich is regarded by her colleagues as an individual of high ethical standards and integrity, a skilled communicator, a sought-after collaborator, and a generous volunteer in research and community service.
When Dr Christine Friedenreich reflects on her work as a cancer epidemiologist – a scientist who studies patterns of disease in populations – her most deeply held belief is that, somehow, she is helping to eradicate cancer.
As a research scientist at the Alberta Cancer Board, Dr Friedenreich has spent much of her career identifying modifiable risk factors for cancer. Since 1994, she’s been studying the link between cancer risk and physical activity.
“When I started looking at the relationship between cancer and physical activity, I realized nobody had measured lifetime activity,” she explains. “Also, no one had taken into account the sum of a person’s activities – on the job, for recreation, around the house.”
To meet this challenge, Dr Friedenreich developed a questionnaire to accurately measure lifetime activity. Initially used to collect data for a study of physical activity and breast cancer risk, it is now being utilized to pinpoint the effects of activity on prostate and endometrial cancer.
Using data gathered with this questionnaire, she was able to show conclusively that active postmenopausal women have a 30 to 40% lower risk of breast cancer.
“Finding such a strong risk reduction with lifetime physical activity was really exciting,” she says. “Physical activity is a modifiable lifestyle risk factor, so people have control over it. That’s big news. It means people can do something to reduce their risk of developing cancer.”
Dr Friedenreich’s work is also defining what types and levels of physical activity reduce risk the most.“This is an extremely rewarding area of research,” she says. “There are real public health implications. Being able to have an impact on a population’s health is exciting. I’m a small fish in a big, big pond, but it’s gratifying to make a contribution.”
Great progress has been made
Some cancers, such as thyroid and testicular, have survival rates of over 90%. Other cancers, such as pancreatic, brain and esophageal, continue to have very low survival rates.