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Iona Cheng, PhD, MPH

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Iona Cheng, PhD, MPH
  • Full Member
    Population Sciences in the Pacific Program (Cancer Epidemiology)
    University of Hawaii Cancer Center
  • Academic Appointments

  • Associate Professor
    Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics
    University of California, San Francisco


  • PhD, Epidemiology, University of Southern California
  • Postdoctoral training, Genetic and Molecular Epidemiology, University of California, San Francisco
  • MPH, Chronic Disease Epidemiology, Yale University

Research Focus

Dr. Cheng is an Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California at San Francisco and a University of Hawaii Cancer Center member. She also serves as a co-Investigator of the SEER Greater Bay Area Cancer Registry. She is a cancer and genetic epidemiologist, and Principal Investigator of multiple NIH- and foundation-funded projects aimed at examining genetics, lifestyle factors, and neighborhood characteristics in relation to cancer risk. She has an extensive research program investigating racial/ethnic differences in cancer risk with expertise in leading population-based cancer surveillance studies that document the variation in cancer incidence and mortality patterns across race/ethnicity.

Her research in cancer surveillance has characterized the incidence of lung cancer among Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islanders (AANHPIs), revealing the importance of disaggregating AANHPIs into specific population groups and their heterogeneity in disease burden. Specifically, her findings were the first to report the increasing incidence rates of adenocarcinoma for Filipino and Korean women (1990-2010) and Chinese men (1996-2010) and increasing rates of squamous cell carcinoma for Japanese women (1990-2010).

Dr. Cheng and colleagues conducted the first genome-wide association studies of prostate cancer in Japanese Americans and Latinos, identifying established risk loci for prostate cancer to also be associated with risk of disease in these two populations. In addition, her studies have examined pleiotropy and cancer, and identified a prostate cancer variant in region 1 of chromosome 8q24 to be associated with colorectal cancer susceptibility; and a breast cancer variant in the gene, lymphoctyte-specific protein 1, that also influenced lung cancer susceptibility.

Dr. Cheng has developed a growing portfolio of studies examining the neighborhood environment and cancer risk, applying geospatial approaches to residential history data within the Multiethnic Cohort. Her research has identified the influence of the neighborhood obesogenic environment and cancer risk. Specifically, finding an association between neighborhood socioeconomic status, ubanicity, and mixed-land development and risk of breast cancer; and traffic-density to be associated with colorectal cancer.

Selected Publications

  • Conroy SM, Clarke C, Yang J, Shariff-Marco S, Shvetsov YB, Park SY, Albright CL, Hertz A, Monroe KR, Kolonel LN, Le Marchand L, Wilkens LR, Gomez SL, Cheng I. (2017). Contextual impact of neighborhood obesogenic factors on postmenopausal breast cancer: The Multiethnic Cohort. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. Epublished.
  • Park SL, Fesinmeyer MD, Timofeeva M, Caberto CP, Kocarnik JM, Han Y, et al. (2014). Pleiotropic associations of risk variants identified for other cancers with lung cancer risk: the PAGE and TRICL consortia. J Natl Cancer Inst; 106(4):dju061. PMCID: 3982896.
  • Cheng I, Le GM, Noone AM, Gali K, Patel M, Haile RW, et al. (2014). Lung cancer incidence trends by histology type among Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander populations in the United States, 1990-2010. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev; 23(11):2250-65.
  • Cheng I, Chen GK, Nakagawa H, He J, Wan P, Laurie CC, et al. (2012). Evaluating genetic risk for prostate cancer among Japanese and Latinos. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev; 21(11):2048-58. PMCID: 3494732.

Publication list via PubMed

Active Grants

  • I. Cheng, Multi-PI (contact); Wu, PI
    National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
    "A cohort study of air pollution, lung cancer, and COPD in Los Angeles County "
    The goal of this study is to evaluate the relationship between traffic related air pollutants and lung cancer risk and COPD among Los Angeles residents of the Multiethnic Cohort Study.
    9/30/2016 - 8/31/2020
  • Cheng, PI of subcontract; Mucci, PI
    "Circadian disruption and risk of prostate cancer in a multiethnic cohort"
    The goal of this study is to understand the role of circadian disruption and prostate cancer risk among diverse racial/ethnic populations.
    1/20/2016 - 12/31/2019
  • I. Cheng, Multi-PI; Wu, PI
    California Breast Cancer Research Program/University of Southern California
    "A prospective study of phthalates, BPA, and breast cancer"
    The goal of this study is to examine the relationships between urinary phthalates and bisphenol A with breast cancer risk, established risk factors for breast cancer, and obesity-related and inflammation biomarkers in the Multiethnic Cohort.
    10/1/2016 - 9/30/2019
  • I. Cheng, Multi-PI; Gomez, PI
    "Lung cancer in never smokers: incidence, risk factors, and molecular characteristics in Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander females"
    The goal of this project is to document incidence and risk factors for lung cancer by smoking status, among Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islanders, focusing especially on female never smokers.
    5/11/2016 - 4/30/2019
  • I. Cheng, Multiple PI; Wu, PI
    Brain and Lung Tumor and Air Pollution Foundation/University of Southern California
    "A cohort study of air pollution, malignant and benign brain tumors in Los Angeles County"
    This study will examine the association between air pollution exposures and risks of brain cancer and benign brain tumors in the Multiethnic Cohort Study.
    2/10/2017 - 1/31/2019
  • I. Cheng, PI of subcontract; Le Marchand, PI
    NCI/University of Hawaii
    5UM1CA167551-03/KA140007 (Le Marchand)
    "The Colon Cancer Family Registry Cohort"
    The collaborative study will follow-up of probands, identify new primary colorectal cancer diagnoses, retrieve biospecimens, and transmit data to the Colon Cancer Family Registry data repository.
    5/1/2013 - 4/30/2018
  • I. Cheng, Co-Investigator; Gomez, PI
    "Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (main)"
    Contract to collect and report regularly on population-based cancer incidence and survival data for the greater San Francisco Bay Area as part of a nation-wide incidence reporting program.
    8/1/2010 - 04/23/2018
  • I. Cheng, Co-PI; Wu, Co-PI
    Komen Foundation/University of Southern California
    "A Cohort Study on Air Pollution and Breast Cancer in Los Angeles County"
    The goal of this study is to evaluate the relationship between traffic related air pollutants and breast cancer risk among Los Angeles residents of the Multiethnic Cohort Study.
    2/14/2014 - 2/13/2018

Recently Completed Grants

  • I. Cheng, Project 2 Leader; Le Marchand, PI
    NCI/University of Hawaii
    "Obesity, Body Fat Distribution, and Cancer Risk in the Multiethnic Cohort"
    The goal of this study is to measure body fat directly using imaging methods (DXA and MRI) and to identify blood biomarkers and lifestyle behaviors that predict body fat distribution in a multiethnic population in order to test their associations with risks of breast and colorectal cancers.
    9/1/2012 - 8/31/2017
  • I. Cheng, PI
    HHSN261201300005I / HHSN26100010
    "Patterns of Care/Quality of Care Study: Diagnosis Year 2015"
    This study will investigate state-of-the-art therapies for adult patients diagnosed with breast, lung, and colorectal cancers in 2015.
    8/15/2016 - 08/14/2017
  • NIH/University of Southern California
    "Epidemiologic Studies of Putative Functional Variation in the Multiethnic Cohort"
    The goal of this study is to characterize population-level risk associated with genetic variation for complex phenotypes and traits across multiple racial/ethnic populations.
    9/1/2013 - 5/31/2017