Leslie Bernstein, PhD, a pioneer in the field of cancer epidemiology and prevention, died July 28, 2022, at the age of 82.
Born October 9, 1939, Bernstein graduated with highest honors from the University of California Los Angeles in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. She earned a master’s degree in gerontology and a PhD in biometry from the University of Southern California in 1978 and 1981, respectively.
Bernstein was a professor at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California for over 25 years, where she also served as senior associate dean for faculty affairs and vice provost for medical affairs before retiring from the institution in 2007. She had been a professor at the Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope since 2007.
During her distinguished career, Bernstein led several groundbreaking studies on the factors underlying cancer development, with a focus on breast cancer. She was the first to report a link between physical activity and breast cancer risk and survival, and she also discovered an association between reproductive hormones and breast cancer development. In 1995, she cofounded the California Teachers Study, a cohort of more than 130,000 women who were active or retired public school professionals, to study the impact of health behaviors on disease development. Data from the California Teachers Study have led to numerous important findings and over 140 publications to date.
Bernstein’s seminal discoveries paved the way to identifying weight management and exercise as key ways to modify breast cancer risk. Her research also contributed to the understanding of other cancer types, including non-Hodgkin lymphoma and esophageal cancer. More recently, she studied the long-term impacts of cancer treatment on survivors.
An AACR member since 1996, Bernstein served as cochair of the AACR Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Award Committee for the 2010-2011 term and was a member of various other AACR committees. She was a longtime member of the AACR’s Women in Cancer Research (WICR) group, serving as a council member from 2011 to 2013. She also participated in the Molecular Epidemiology Working Group and the Cancer Prevention Working Group.
Bernstein received the AACR-Prevent Cancer Foundation Award for Excellence in Cancer Prevention Research in 2007 and the AACR-American Cancer Society Award for Research Excellence in Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention in 2018.
She was awarded the City of Hope’s Lifetime Achievement Mentorship Award for her commitment to mentoring students, postdoctoral researchers, and junior faculty. Among numerous other accolades, Bernstein received the Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, the American Society for Preventive Oncology Distinguished Achievement Award, the University of Southern California Presidential Medallion, the Keck School of Medicine Stevely Hoffman Achievement Award, the Rosalind E. Franklin Award for Women in Science, and the Abraham Lilienfeld Award for Lifetime Contributions to Epidemiology.
“Leslie Bernstein made pioneering advances to the field of epidemiology and contributed significantly to our understanding of breast cancer,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), chief executive officer of the AACR. “She will also be fondly remembered for supporting the next generation of cancer researchers and blazing trails for women in science.”