Susan E. Hankinson

Susan Hankinson
Distinguished Professor
438 Arnold House


B.S., University of Southern Maine, 1979; M.S., University of Minnesota, 1985; M.P.H., University of Minnesota, 1986; Sc.D., Harvard University, 1992

Area(s) of Specialization: 

Breast cancer, prevention, hormones, biomarkers, and women’s health

Research Description: 

My research addresses the role of endogenous hormones in the etiology of breast cancer in women, including determining the lifestyle and genetic factors that influence hormone levels. This focus reflects a broad interest in the application of biomarkers in epidemiologic research. Much of my research has been conducted with the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and Nurses’ Health Study II (NHSII) cohorts, where I am a senior investigator. I have conducted projects to evaluate the role of endogenous hormones and nutritional factors in breast cancer etiology in postmenopausal women. This work has helped establish circulating sex steroids and prolactin as independent predictors of risk in postmenopausal women; projects are now ongoing to evaluate if these markers can be used to improve breast cancer risk prediction models, which in turn could help guide screening and chemoprevention recommendations. I also am leading several projects assessing plasma and urinary markers that predict risk of breast cancer in premenopausal women – both to identify new biologic pathways and again to improve individual breast cancer risk prediction. Other current interests include evaluating stress markers, risk factors by breast cancer subtype, and incorporating tissue molecular characteristics into my research.

Key Publications: 

Wang J, Peng C, Askew C, Heng YJ, Baker GM, Rubadue CA, Glass K, Eliassen AH, Tamimi RM, Polyak K, Hankinson SE. Early-Life Body Adiposity and the Breast Tumor Transcriptome.  J Natl Cancer Inst. 2020 Nov 2. Online ahead of print.

Huang T, Balasubramanian R, Yao Y, Clish CB, Shadyab AH, Liu B, Tworoger SS, Rexrode KM, Manson JE, Kubzansky LD, Hankinson SE. Associations of depression status with plasma levels of candidate lipid and amino acid metabolites: a meta-analysis of individual data from three independent samples of US postmenopausal women. Mol Psychiatry. 2020 Aug 28. Online ahead of print.

Heng YJ, Wang J, Ahearn TU, Brown SB, Zhang X, Ambrosone CB, de Andrade VP, Brufsky AM, Couch FJ, King TA, Modugno F, Vachon CM, DuPre NC, Garcia-Closas M, Troester MA, Hunter DJ, Eliassen AH, Tamimi RM, Hankinson SE*, Beck AH*. Molecular mechanisms linking high body mass index to breast cancer etiology in post-menopausal breast tumor and tumor-adjacent tissues. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2019 Feb;173(3):667-677  PMCID: PMC6391202. * co-last authors

Zhang X, Rice M, Tworoger SS, Rosner BA, Eliassen AH, Tamimi RM, Joshi AD, Lindstrom S, Qian J, Colditz GA, Willett WC, Kraft P, Hankinson SE. Addition of a polygenic risk score, mammographic density, and endogenous hormones to existing breast cancer risk prediction models: A nested case-control study. PLoS Med. 2018 Sep 4;15(9):e1002644. PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6122802.

Eliassen AH, Warner ET, Rosner B, Collins LC, Beck AH, Quintana LM, Tamimi RM, Hankinson SE. Plasma 25-Hydroxyvitamin D and Risk of Breast Cancer in Women Followed over 20 Years. Cancer Res 2016 Sep 15;76(18):5423-30.

Tworoger SS, Eliassen AH, Zhang X, Qian J, Sluss PM, Rosner BA, Hankinson SE. A 20-year prospective study of plasma prolactin as a risk marker of breast cancer development. Cancer Res. 2013 Aug 1;73(15):4810-9.

Eliassen AH, Hendrickson SJ, Brinton LA, Buring JE, Campos H, Dai Q, Dorgan JF, Franke AA, Gao YT, Goodman MT, Hallmans G, Helzlsouer KJ, Hoffman-Bolton J, Hultén K, Sesso HD, Sowell AL, Tamimi RM, Toniolo P, Wilkens LR, Winkvist A, Zeleniuch-Jacquotte A, Zheng W, Hankinson SE. Circulating carotenoids and risk of breast cancer: pooled analysis of eight prospective studies. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2012 Dec 19;104(24):1905-16.

Eliassen AH, Colditz GA, Rosner B, Willett WC, Hankinson SE. Adult weight change and risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. JAMA. 2006 Jul 12;296(2):193-201. PMID: 16835425 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]