School of Public Health

Vaughan, Thomas

Thomas L. Vaughan

Professor Emeritus, Epidemiology


MD University of Illinois, 1978
MPH Epidemiology, University of Washington, 1983
BS Chemical Engineering, Cornell University, 1974

Contact Info

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Box 358080; Mailstop: M4-B874


Over the past 40 years, the incidence of adenocarcinoma of the esophagus among white males in the US has increased almost 10-fold. Rapid increases among females and African American males also have been observed. This rapidly fatal cancer is becoming increasingly common in parts of western Europe as well. Esophageal adenocarcinoma is thought to develop in a series of potentially reversible steps, usually under conditions of chronic reflux. A substantial proportion, perhaps 10 - 15%, of those with chronic reflux develop a metaplastic epithelium (Barrett's esophagus). Those with metaplasia are at substantial risk, estimated at 0.5% per year, of developing adenocarcinoma. Paralleling the histopathological changes are a number of cell cycle and genetic abnormalities, such as loss or mutation of tumor suppressor genes, telomere shortening and aneuploidy, resulting in increased genetic instability and eventually invasive cancer.

One major focus of our research is the identification of environmental and host factors that underlie this dramatic increase in incidence. We have approached this through population-based case-control studies of cancer, community-based case-control studies of newly diagnosed Barrett's, and a long-standing cohort study of persons with Barrett's. Determinants of genetic susceptibility to esophageal and gastric adenocarcinoma, e.g., genes involved in the biotransformation of xenobiotics, DNA repair, and immune response, are also being investigated. Polymorphisms in these genes may interact with environmental factors, such as in tobacco smoke or diet, in modifying risk in the general population. We are pursuing these issues in candidate gene studies as well as genome wide association studies that take advantage of the international BEACON consortium of esophageal cancer studies. Our eventual goal is to identify not only the major risk factors for esophageal adenocarcinoma, but the stage(s) of neoplastic progression at which they act. Such knowledge would be particularly helpful in designing primary and secondary prevention strategies.

Another major area of study in our research unit is occupational and environmental exposures (e.g., wood dust, formaldehyde), infectious diseases (e.g., Chlamydia pneumoniae, EBV) and genetic factors that may predispose to risk of lung and upper respiratory cancers, including sinonasal, nasopharyngeal, oral and laryngeal cancers.

Critical to all of the above epidemiologic studies are collaborations with laboratory-based investigators in the Divisions of Public Health Sciences and Human Biology at the FHCRC


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In The News

Study identifies 4 genetic variants linked to esophageal cancer and Barrett's esophagus
Eureka Alert, 10/13/2013

Genetic Variants and Esophageal Cancer Risk
Nature Genetics, 10/13/2013

Joint Supplements May Prevent Colorectal Cancer
Cancer Causes & Control, 06/01/2013