“I had one of the first studies in the U.S. linking sitting time and premature death,” she says. As a cancer epidemiologist, her next headline may read “Sitting Causes Cancer.”
That’s because Dr. Patel is the strategic director of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study-3, a 300,000-person nationwide study that’s the largest of its kind in the country and aims to tell us definitively if physical inactivity and obesity cause cancer.
“The promise the study holds is limitless,” she says. “With a large part of the population obese, mounting evidence shows it’s related to more than ten different types of cancers.”
Her prescription? Dr. Patel wants us to stand up and fight cancer—literally. You’ll find her on her feet behind her standing desk at her downtown office, poring over numbers to identify patterns in lifestyle data from other ACS studies.
Atlanta gained this forty-one-year-old science superstar when she moved here in 1996 to obtain a Master’s of Public Health from Emory University. She now has an adjunct appointment at her alma mater’s Rollins School of Public Health.
“I was very young when I entered this field, and strong female mentors paved that path,” she says. “I need to pay it forward and encourage young girls in the sciences.” To stay motivated, she looks to the sixties, when cancer was an almost guaranteed death sentence. Today, two out of three people survive the diagnosis. “I love my job,” she says, “but I’d like to find a cure and be put out of a job.”
Words of Wisdom