Epidemiology is the study of factors affecting the health and disease states of populations. It serves as the foundation for clinical interventions made in the interest of public health and preventive medicine. Epidemiology is highly valued in evidence-based medicine for identifying risk factors for disease but identifying a risk factor and proving that it has a definite correlation to a disease has proved daunting. Experimental trials have often produced negative findings.
Does smoking cause lung cancer? Do high-fat diets increase the risk of breast cancer? Is arsenic in drinking water linked to cancer? Are some members of the population genetically more susceptible to cancer risk than others? These are the kinds of questions thatepidemiologists try to answer.
Basic, translational and clinical research all focus on the biology of cancer and interventions used to treat it. Epidemiology focuses on what may have caused the cancer and suggests strategies for removing the exposure or changing something in a lifestyle such as diet or exercise to prevent the cancer (diet/exercise).
Once again using our arrow diagram we have moved to the far right at epidemiology, studying people as they live. An important feedback loop back through the entire research process exists, understanding and testing hypotheses generated by epidemiologic researchers.
In this section we will discuss: