In memoriam: Dimitrios Trichopoulos, ‘giant’ in cancer epidemiology

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Dimitrios Trichopoulos, who was Vincent L. Gregory Professor of Cancer Prevention and Professor of Epidemiology, and a past chair of the Department of Epidemiology, died on December 1, 2014. He was 75.

Dimitrios was an outstanding scientist and teacher for more than four decades in the field of cancer epidemiology and prevention. He published more than 1,000 scientific papers, continually staking out scientific frontiers — from seminal research linking secondhand smoke from cigarettes with an increased risk of lung cancer, and hepatitis B virus and tobacco smoking to increased risk of primary liver cancer, to findings documenting that surgically induced and early natural menopause reduced breast cancer risk. Outside of the field of cancer, his paper linking psychological stress after an earthquake in Athens to increased risk of cardiac death was included in a 1997 list in The Lancet of 27 papers deserving to form a core canon of medical literature.

Dimitrios’ research career included several significant “firsts”: He was first, with a 1990 paper in The Lancet, to propose that in utero exposures play a major role in breast cancer causation. He also was first in 1981, along with an independent paper published a few days later, to report that secondhand smoke increases the risk of lung cancer. Along with Brian MacMahon, then chair of HSPH’s Department of Epidemiology, Dimitrios studied 51 nonsmoking women hospitalized with lung cancer in Greece, and compared them with age-matched women hospitalized for other problems. The researchers determined that the cancer patients were significantly more likely to have been exposed to their husband’s cigarettes.