Opportunities and Challenges for Environmental Exposure Assessment in Population-Based Studies

Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2017 Sep;26(9):1370-1380. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-17-0459. Epub 2017 Jul 14.


A growing number and increasing diversity of factors are available for epidemiological studies. These measures provide new avenues for discovery and prevention, yet they also raise many challenges for adoption in epidemiological investigations. Here, we evaluate 1) designs to investigate diseases that consider heterogeneous and multidimensional indicators of exposure and behavior, 2) the implementation of numerous methods to capture indicators of exposure, and 3) the analytical methods required for discovery and validation. We find that case-control studies have provided insights into genetic susceptibility but are insufficient for characterizing complex effects of environmental factors on disease development. Prospective and two-phase designs are required but must balance extended data collection with follow-up of study participants. We discuss innovations in assessments including the microbiome; mass spectrometry and metabolomics; behavioral assessment; dietary, physical activity, and occupational exposure assessment; air pollution monitoring; and global positioning and individual sensors. We claim the the availability of extensive correlated data raises new challenges in disentangling specific exposures that influence cancer risk from among extensive and often correlated exposures. In conclusion, new high-dimensional exposure assessments offer many new opportunities for environmental assessment in cancer development. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev; 26(9); 1370-80. ©2017 AACR.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microbiota
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis*
  • Risk Assessment