Karen J. Wernli, PhD

“I consider patients the core of my research.”

Karen  J. Wernli, PhD

Group Health Research Institute Associate Investigator

Areas of focus:

Biography

Cancer screening is an important part of preventive medicine, but much is unknown about which screening methods work best for different groups of people. Karen Wernli is helping to narrow this gap through a rigorous research program in screening and prevention that spans breast, colorectal, and ovarian cancer.

An epidemiologist and 10-year veteran of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Dr. Wernli joined Group Health Research Institute (GHRI) in 2009 and began a three-year career development award in comparative effectiveness research in 2010. The award’s rich coursework, mentorship, and training opportunities support her goal of answering key questions related to cancer screening and diagnostics.

She is now leading a Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) contract to compare breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to mammography for women already treated for breast cancer. There is little evidence to support the use of breast MRI for surveillance when physicians are looking for second breast cancers or recurrences of the first cancer. This 3-year $1.9 million contract engages patients and stakeholders to determine the best information for patient and physician decision-making. She is working with the Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium (BCSC) to evaluate these two technologies. Also through the BCSC, Dr. Wernli leads a study using data on more than 800,000 women aged 40 to 79 to determine if mammographic breast density is linked to the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Dr. Wernli  is a co-investigator of GHRI’s Colorectal Cancer Screening Registry, which is part of the National Cancer Institute’s Population-based Research Optimizing Screening through Personalized Regimens (PROSPR) program. Through PROSPR, she leads a study looking at colorectal cancer screening in real-world practice and how people’s use of it influences the tests’ effectiveness. She is also helping Group Health develop more effective prevention strategies—examining how patients use its online health risk assessment and comparing the effectiveness of interactive voice response to usual care on colorectal cancer screening rates.

Dr.  Wernli serves as a reviewer for several journals, including the American Journal of Epidemiology and Cancer Epidemiology,  Biomarkers & Prevention. A longtime member of the American Society for Preventive Oncology (ASPO), she was a recipient of the Prevent Cancer Foundation/ASPO Cancer Prevention Fellowship in 2009 and served as  co-chair for the annual meeting workshop with their Young Investigators.

Research interests and experience

  • Cancer

    Breast, colorectal, ovarian, and endometrial cancer; screening and surveillance; survivorship; patient-centered care; biostatistics; mammography; mammographic breast density; systematic reviews

  • Health Services & Economics

    Comparative effectiveness research; health outcomes research

  • Preventive Medicine

    Cancer screening and surveillance

  • Patient-Centeredness

    Patient engagement, stakeholder engagement, qualitative research methods

  • International Health

    Textile workers in China

Recent publications

Wernli KJ, Brenner AT, Rutter CM, Inadomi J. Reply. Gastroenterology. 2016 Aug 2. pii: S0016-5085(16)34888-0. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2016.07.041. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Hubbard RA, O'Meara ES, Henderson LM, Hill D, Braithwaite D, Haas JS, Lee CI, Sprague BL, Alford-Teaster J, Tosteson AN, Wernli KJ, Onega T. Multilevel factors associated with long-term adherence to screening mammography in older women in the U.S. Prev Med. 2016 Aug;89:169-77. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2016.05.034. Epub 2016 May 31. PubMed

Wernli KJ, Henrikson NB, Morrison CC, Nguyen M, Pocobelli G, Blasi PR. Screening for skin cancer in adults: updated evidence report and systematic review for the US Preventive Services Task Force. JAMA.2016;316(4):436-447. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.5415. PubMed

Onega T, Weiss JE, Buist DS, Tosteson AN, Henderson LM, Kerlikowske K, Goodrich ME, O'Donoghue C, Wernli KJ, DeMartini WB, Virnig BA, Bennette CS, Hubbard RA. Breast MRI in the diagnostic and preoperative workup among Medicare beneficiaries with breast cancer. Med Care. 2016 Apr 22. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

 

healthy findings blog

For young adults with cancer, the Clare Project asks: What matters most?

Inspired by a family member, Dr. Karen Wernli wants to learn what quality care means for young people with advanced cancer.

Read it in Healthy Findings.

cancer screening

Patients and providers talk about lung cancer screening, GHRI listens

Susan Brandzel, GHRI project manager, tells about two studies that are exploring personal experiences with a new cancer screening program.

Read it in Healthy Findings.

Preventive Medicine

Group Health’s new lung cancer screening program shows promise

A project to find early cancers is saving lives, thanks to teamwork, writes Jennifer Nazarko, Group Health director of medical specialties.

Read it in Healthy Findings.