But that feeling didn’t last very long. She learned that preventing diseases required a multidisciplinary effort, where the sum of many perspectives equaled success. At Fred Hutch, everyone has a voice, she said, and as a biostatician she quickly found hers.
In the early 1990s, Fred Hutch was chosen to start and coordinate the Women’s Health Initiative to address the most frequent causes of death, disability and poor quality of life in older women. As a member of Fred Hutch’s Public Health Sciences Division, Anderson became a central figure in the WHI.
Dr. Garnet Anderson
And she did—and so did millions of others—as results of the study trickled out. Early data gathered from these women quickly morphed into a tsunami of lifesaving information.
Among the WHI’s many contributions to women’s health, the most prominent was its report in 2002 that combined estrogen-plus-progestin hormone-replacement therapy increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer, stroke and heart disease.
This finding quickly decreased the use of hormone therapy nationwide by about 50 percent, which led to a significant, sustained decline in breast cancer rates starting in 2003.
Anderson continued to play a major role in clinical trial design, monitoring and analysis, and in overseeing implementation of data management and quality control activities for the WHI. She became co-principal investigator of the WHI Clinical Coordinating Center with Dr. Ross Prentice in 2008 and the sole principal investigator in 2011.
Today, as WHI celebrates its 20th anniversary, Anderson remains one of its most committed investigators. Earlier this year, she earned a new appointment: senior vice president and director of Fred Hutch’s Public Health Sciences Division.
“Through the WHI, Anderson and colleagues have made a major impact on our understanding and prevention of breast cancer and other major diseases,” said Dr. Larry Corey, Fred Hutch president and director, in announcing her appointment.
“The WHI trials led to sweeping changes in clinical practice—changes that have led to approximately 20,000 fewer women developing invasive breast cancer each year in the U.S.,” he said. Worldwide, the decreased use of hormone therapy has resulted in additional reductions in breast cancer incidence by tens of thousands of cases per year.
For Anderson, Fred Hutch has been a perfect place to conduct her research.
“I jumped with both feet into WHI, where I knew I could have the most impact,” Anderson said. “In the last 20 years, all of us here who worked in the WHI wanted to make sure we produced the highest quality science.”
Renowned for its cancer studies, Fred Hutch is a leader in biostatistics and epidemiology, quantitative sciences critical for WHI efforts.
“We’ve had visionary leadership in these fields,” she said. “And we have been able to attract really great staff—people who want to give back, who want to help others.”
These days, Anderson is focused on lifestyle factors and their relationship to disease.
“For example, what is the relationship between obesity and cancer?” she said. Are some aspects [overall food intake or specific types of food, exercise] more directly tied to cancer?
“Obesity and its link to disease is one of the great health problems of our time,” she said. “Getting ahead of these issues will be a major contribution to public health. I really believe we need to make headway on this issue.”