Coleman, Dr Helen G

Keywords: cancer epidemiology; colorectal cancer; bowel cancer screening; Barrett’s oesophagus; gynaecological cancers; molecular epidemiology; nutritional epidemiology.

My general research interests are in cancer epidemiology, particularly modifiable risk factors for progression from pre-cancerous conditions to cancer and factors associated with recurrence or survival after a cancer diagnosis. My research mostly uses real world or observational data from population-based registers, existing cohort and case-control studies, and systematic reviews of these study designs.  I have a strong interest in cancers of the digestive tract, especially colorectal cancer epidemiology, and I also have interests in gynaecological cancer epidemiology. Three major research areas of interest are:

Molecular epidemiology of colon cancer:  I have been central to the establishment of a large molecular epidemiology colon cancer cohort study, with the initial aim of studying the role of vitamin D receptor expression, related genetic variants and colon cancer progression.  However, this resource can be used for multiple research projects investigating lifestyle factors, their relation to genetic and molecular features, and colon cancer outcomes. In 2016, I won an International ‘Rising Investigator’ award in Molecular Pathology Epidemiology in recognition of this innovative methodology in population-based research.  This work represents a large collaborative team effort between the Centre for Public Health, Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, Northern Ireland Biobank and Northern Ireland Molecular Pathology Laboratory, and Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.

Clinical and nutritional epidemiology of colorectal polyps: I am conducting several projects using colorectal polyp pathology data collected as part of the Northern Ireland Bowel Cancer Screening programme.  The first publication from this work, on approaches to adenoma sizing and implications for surveillance of adenoma patients, has been published in a top Gastroenterology journal in 2016. I have also developed key collaborations with researchers at Vanderbilt Epidemiology Center and the National Cancer Institute, USA, to examine dietary factors and risk of colorectal cancer and polyps within the Tennessee Colorectal Polyp Study and the PLCO Cancer Screening Trial, respectively.

Population-based registers of pre-malignant conditions: I also have considerable experience of developing pre-malignant disease registers within the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry, most notably the Northern Ireland Barrett’s oesophagus Register.  The resulting high-impact publications from this work, examining factors related to the progression of these conditions to cancer, have influenced national guidelines for the management of these patients in clinical practice. More recently, I have been supervising a PhD project that aims to establish a population-based register of Endometrial Hyperplasia cases.  The register will improve our understanding of the prevalence of concurrent Endometrial Hyperplasia and cancer diagnoses, and allow estimations of cancer risk in cases who do not undergo hysterectomy.   The results will allow women to make informed treatment choices following an Endometrial Hyperplasia diagnosis.