Julie R. Palmer, Sc.D.

Julie PalmerAssociate Director
Slone Epidemiology Center

Professor of Epidemiology
Boston University School of Public Health



B.A., Brown University
M.P.H., Boston University
Sc.D., Harvard University

Research Interests:

Dr. Palmer’s major research interest is the etiology of breast cancer, with a particular focus on African American women. She was instrumental in designing and implementing the Black Women’s Health Study, a cohort study of 59,000 women, and has served as co-investigator of the study since its inception in 1995. Dr. Palmer is director of genetics research in the Black Women’s Health Study and has spearheaded efforts to use DNA from study participants in studies of the genetics of breast cancer, other cancers, lupus, uterine fibroids, type 2 diabetes, and sarcoidosis.

A major goal of Dr. Palmer’s research program is reduction of breast cancer mortality in young African American women by identification of modifiable factors that influence development of hormone receptor negative breast cancer. To that end, Dr. Palmer is one of the three multiple PIs who organized a collaborative NCI Program Project (AMBER), which combines data, germline DNA, and tumor tissue samples from four epidemiologic studies of breast cancer in African American women for identification of factors related to specific breast cancer subtypes. Dr. Palmer’s research provided convincing evidence that breastfeeding reduces risk of hormone receptor negative breast cancer and that, in the absence of breastfeeding, higher parity is associated with an increased risk of receptor negative disease. She is now assessing the possible interaction of those factors with genetic variants in pathways related to hormone metabolism and inflammation.

Dr. Palmer has led work to develop an effective risk prediction tool for breast cancer in African American women that can be used by primary care providers to refer high-risk women for additional screening (e.g., testing for high-penetrance genetic variants, breast MRI, etc.). She tested existing breast cancer risk models in the Black Women’s Health Study cohort and then developed a new model that incorporates additional factors for better prediction. She is currently working on methods for subtype-specific risk models, while leading analyses to identify appropriate candidate factors for possible inclusion in the models. Her recent AMBER publication on family history of cancer in relation to breast cancer risk indicated that women who had a first degree relative with prostate cancer as well as a first degree relative with breast cancer had about three times the risk of breast cancer compared to women without first degree relatives with cancer, suggesting that family history of prostate cancer may be important for an effective risk prediction model.