Brenda Y. Hernandez, PhD, MPH

Brenda Y. Hernandez, PhD, MPH

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Principal Investigator, Hawaiʻi Tumor Registry, University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center
Co-Director, Pathology Shared Resource, University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center
Full Member, Population Sciences in the Pacific Program (Cancer Epidemiology), University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center

Academic Appointment(s):
Professor (Researcher), University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Associate Graduate Faculty, Department of Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology, and Pharmacology, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Assistant Adjunct Professor, Department of Pathology, John A. Burns School of Medicine University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

PhD, Epidemiology, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
MPH, Epidemiology, Yale University School of Medicine

Research Focus

A major focus of my research is HPV, an etiologic agent in a wide spectrum of human malignancies including genital cancers (cervix, vagina, vulva, penis), anal cancers, and cancers of the head and neck (oral cavity, base of tongue, tonsil). I developed an HPV testing laboratory at the University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center, which conducts state-of-the art HPV DNA testing and genotyping and which, to date, has tested over 40,000 clinical specimens. We have also developed a multiplex assay for serologic evaluation of HPV 16 and 18 IgG using virus-like particles.

My research has included collaborative studies of HPV in the U.S., Vietnam, American Samoa, Guam, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Tanzania. We have characterized and quantified the acquisition, clearance, and persistence of HPV infection in separate cohort studies of female and male populations funded by the NCI and NIH NCRR, respectively, which have collectively enrolled over 2600 individuals. Among the key findings, we demonstrated the high prevalence and incidence of co-infection of HPV infection in the cervix and anus of women as well as concurrent penile and anal HPV in men. Our findings that HPV clearance is reduced in uncircumcised compared to circumcised men suggested a possible mechanism by which circumcision protects against penile cancer.

We were among the first to yield empirical data on the transmission dynamics of HPV infection in male-female couples. We quantified HPV transmission rates and demonstrated that oncogenic and non-oncogenic types can be transmitted between genital and non-genital sites, that female-to-male transmission may exceed male-to-female, as well as the potential for auto-inoculation.

In another CDC-funded study, we developed and validated self-collection methods for evaluating HPV genital infection in males. In an NCI-funded study, we conducted a randomized clinical trial to evaluate the utility of urine HPV DNA for cervical cancer screening in Yap, Federated States of Micronesia, a low resource Pacific Island population.

We have investigated the role of HPV in malignancies of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, oropharynx, oral cavity, and larynx in research collaborations with the NCI, CDC, and the Catalan Institute of Oncology in Spain. Among our findings, we established that HPV plays a role in nearly all anal cancers, over half of all penile cancers, and may contribute to subsets of laryngeal and oral cavity cancers. We showed that the prevalence of HPV in oropharyngeal tumors has increased over the past several decades providing evidence that infection is driving the increasing incidence of this malignancy. We also confirmed the findings of others that patients with HPV-positive oropharyngeal tumors have improved survival compared to those with HPV-negative tumors. Our research has also focused on uptake of HPV vaccination.

In an NCI- funded study we evaluated barriers to HPV vaccination among children and adolescents. Improving pediatric HPV vaccination uptake was the focus of another project funded by the American Cancer Society.

My laboratory has established next generation sequencing and bioinformatic capacity to support our emerging research on the role of the oral microbiome and bacterial secondary metabolites in oral and liver cancers. In an NCI- funded study, we found evidence that chewing of Areca nut/betel quid (AN/BQ), the 4th most widely used addictive substance globally, may alter the composition of the oral bacterial microbiome and contribute to the development of oral premalignant lesions among Micronesians. We identified potentially novel mechanisms linking AN/BQ chewing to liver cancer.

Selected Publications

Hernandez BY, Zhu X, Sotto P, Paulino Y. (2021). Oral exposure to environmental cyanobacteria toxins: Implications for cancer risk. Environ Int; 148:106381. Epub 2021/01/20. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2021.106381. PubMed PMID: 33465665.

Hernandez BY, Rahman M, Loo LWM, Chan OTM, Horio D, Morita S, Bryant-Greenwood G. (2021). BRAFV600E, hypothyroidism, and human relaxin in thyroid carcinogenesis. J Cancer Res Clin Oncol; Jan;147(1):183-194. doi: 10.1007/s00432-020-03401-9. Epub 2020 Sep 29. PMID: 32995956.

Rodriguez RM, Hernandez BY, Menor M, Deng Y, Khadka VS.(2020). The landscape of bacterial presence in tumor and adjacent normal tissue across 9 major cancer types using TCGA exome sequencing. Comput Struct Biotechnol J; Mar 13;18:631-641. doi: 10.1016/j.csbj.2020.03.003. eCollection 2020. PMID: 32257046.

Maskarinec G, Ju D, Shvetsov YB, Horio D, Chan O, Loo LWM, Hernandez BY. (2020). Breast tumor tissue inflammation but not lobular involution is associated with survival among breast cancer patients in the Multiethnic Cohort. Cancer Epidemiol; Apr;65:101685. doi: 10.1016/j.canep.2020.101685. Epub 2020 Feb 12. PMID: 32058311.

Hernandez BY, Lynch CF, Chan OTM, Goodman MT, Unger ER, Steinau M, Thompson TD, Gillison M, Lyu C, Saraiya M; HPV Typing of Cancer Workgroup. (2019). Human papillomavirus DNA detection, p16INK4a, and oral cavity cancer in a U.S. population. Oral Oncol; Apr;91:92-96. doi: 10.1016/j.oraloncology.2019.03.001. Epub 2019 Mar 5. PMID: 30926069.

Publication list via PubMed

For a complete list of Dr. Hernandez's publications, see her NIH MyBibliography website.

Active Grants

B. Hernandez, PI
National Cancer Institute, Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER)
05/01/2018 – 04/30/28

B. Hernandez, Co-Investigator; N. Palafox, R. Holcombe, MPIs
“Pacific Island Partnership for Cancer Health Equity (PIPCHE)”
09/28/09 - 08/31/25

B. Hernandez, Co-Investigator; L. Loo, I. Cheng, MPIs
“Role of 27-hydroxycholesterol in Breast Cancer: A Population-Based Multiethnic Study”
03/01/2019 – 02/28/2024

B. Hernandez, Co-Investigator; R. Holcombe, PI
2P30CA071789-18 - University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center CCSG
07/01/1997 – 06/30/2021

B. Hernandez, PI
SEER Linked Virtual Tissue Repository (VTR)
05/28/2019 – 05/27/2021