Adams-Campbell, Lucile L.

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Lucile L. Adams-Campbell



Dr. Lucile L. Adams-Campbell was the first black American woman to earn a PhD in epidemiology. In 1995 she became director of the Howard University Cancer Center (HUCC), the only black woman to head a cancer institute. Her groundbreaking research focused on racially-based health disparities, women's health issues, and cancer prevention and control among blacks. She published more than 100 peer-reviewed research papers and was a strong advocate for more federal funding for cancer research at minority institutions and for research studies that included blacks and other minorities.

Studied Cardiovascular Disease in Blacks

Lucile Lauren Adams was born on December 30, 1953, in Washington, D.C., the daughter of David Adams, a linguist and accountant, and Florence Adams, a teacher. Lucile knew from an early age that she wanted to be a scientist. She majored in chemical engineering at Drexel University in Philadelphia for four years, including apprenticeships at the Naval Ship Research and Development Center in Annapolis, Maryland, and in Norfolk, Virginia. However she switched to biology, earning her bachelor's degree in 1977 and her master's degree in biomedical sciences in 1979. While teaching undergraduate calculus Adams-Campbell earned her doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health with a dissertation on behavioral contributions to high blood pressure (hypertension) in blacks. She remained at the University of Pittsburg as a post-doctoral researcher and instructor until 1987, when she became a senior research scientist at the New England Research Institute.

In 1990 Adams-Campbell joined the faculty of Howard University in Washington, D.C. That year she published a report demonstrating that college-age black women were twice as likely as their white counterparts to be overweight. Although her research focused on the relationship between obesity and cardiovascular disease, at Howard she also began collaborating with cancer researchers. A grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) enabled her to embark on an epidemiological study of breast-cancer susceptibility genes in blacks.

As director of the HUCC, the only cancer center at a historically black university, Adams-Campbell greatly increased the center's faculty and funding. She focused the center's research on the cancers that most affect blacks-breast, prostate, and gastrointestinal. Adams-Campbell outlined her accomplishments for Contemporary Black Biography (CBB): "We have substantially increased external grant support; constructed important bridges between basic science and bench scientists in cancer research and population science to accomplish our goals; we have made major community outreach efforts, including health screening for underserved populations, in an effort to reduce disparities in medical outcomes."

Initiated the Black Women's Health Study

In January of 1995 Adams-Campbell and her coinvestigator, Dr. Lynn Rosenberg of Boston University Medical School, mailed 16-page questionnaires to 400,000 black women across the country. This marked the beginning of the largest and most expensive long-term study ever of black American women's health. Adams-Campbell needed the resources and experience of Boston University and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) needed Adams-Campbell to gain the trust of the black community. She told Tamara Jeffries of Essence in 2006: "We have to look at Black women's health from a different perspective. It entails a litany of things, and family history, environment and psychological factors are important, including access to fresh fruits and vegetables. You have to look at the whole experience." Adams-Campbell was especially interested in factors responsible for the higher incidence of breast cancer in younger black women as compared with white women of the same age.

Among the Black Women's Health Study (BWHS) findings: women who exercised regularly had less depression and obesity and were at reduced risk for breast and colon cancers; women living in poorer neighborhoods were more likely to have high blood pressure than those living in more affluent neighborhoods; women who had used hormone-replacement therapy for at least five years to combat symptoms of menopause appeared to be at higher risk for breast cancer; severely overweight women were more than 20 times more likely to develop diabetes; earlier onset of menopause in black women was strongly associated with smoking and inversely associated with obesity and the use of oral contraceptives; and the number of black women having mammograms to screen for breast cancer was increasing. The breast-cancer findings were particularly significant. Adams-Campbell told Essence: "This used to be viewed as a middle-class White woman's disease. We weren't educated about how breast cancer affected us or what we could do about it. Now we're finally getting the message, but we still need to work on increasing our rates of treatment." In 2004 Adams-Campbell and coworkers demonstrated that the usual model for predicting breast-cancer risk underestimated the risk in black women.

At a Glance …

Born Lucile Lauren Adams on December 30, 1953, in Washington, DC; married Thomas Campbell; children: two. Education: Drexel University, BS, 1977, MS, 1979; University of Pittsburgh, PhD, epidemiology, 1983.


University of Pittsburgh, engineering instructor, 1980-84, NIH Cardiovascular Trainee, 1983-85, epidemiology instructor, 1985-87, adjunct professor, 1995-; New England Research Institute, Watertown, MA, senior research scientist, 1987-1990; Howard University, Washington, DC, Department of Physiology and Biophysics, graduate associate professor, 1990-92, psychology professor, 1995-, College of Medicine, Division of Cardiovascular Diseases, associate professor of medicine, 1990-91, Division of Epidemiology and Cancer Control, associate professor of medicine, 1991-94, professor of medicine, 1994-, professor of community health and family practice, 1995-2001, 2005-, HUCC, acting director, 1994-95, director, 1995-; Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD, adjunct clinical assistant professor of medical and clinical psychology, 1997-99; Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, visiting professor of oncology, 2001-.

Selected memberships:

American Association for Cancer Research, committee member and chair, director; American Cancer Society, committee member; American College of Epidemiology, committee member, director; American Heart Association, committee member; NCI, committee member and chair.

Selected awards:

Drexel University, Ewaugh Finney Fields Award, 1984; University of Pittsburgh, Distinguished Alumni Award, 1995, Significant Contributor to Public Health, 2000; U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Deputy Commissioner Community Service Award, 1998; Howard University, Distinguished Faculty Author Awards, 2001-06; American Association for Cancer Research, Service Award, 2004.


Office—Howard University Cancer Center, 2041 Georgia Ave NW, Washington, DC, 20060-0001.

Adams-Campbell told CBB that the BWHS "has made major contributions to science in general. It is the first time that this type of study has been undertaken in black women and followed prospectively for valid answers and to look at the factors involved in addressing diseases, such as lupus, sickle-cell disease, and hypertension, that truly impact blacks more than other groups, and to do this across socioeconomic and educational groups." The BWHS was ongoing as of 2007.

Recruited Blacks for Clinical Trials

In 1996, the year her father died from prostate cancer, Adams-Campbell organized a community symposium to promote early screening for the disease. She was involved in a 1999 study that demonstrated that nutrition home-study materials improved cholesterol and blood pressure levels in black adults with widely differing literacy skills. She told the Washington Informer: "What we discover in the lab must be applicable to the community we serve. If we do everything behind closed walls, no one will ever know what it is that we do. We must go from the bench to the bedside to the community."

Adams-Campbell was a principal investigator (PI) for the Minority Based Community Clinical Oncology Program, funded by the NCI to recruit blacks into clinical trials. She served as co-PI of a comparative clinical trial of Tamoxifen and Raloxifene for the prevention of breast cancer in postmenopausal women at increased risk of developing the disease. She was also co-PI for a trial of selenium and vitamin E in preventing prostate cancer in older men and a phase III trial comparing a nicotine inhaler and/or Buproprion for smoking cessation and relapse prevention. Adams-Campbell told CBB: "I have tried to make certain that Howard University is involved in clinical trials, and from the point-of-views of the community, patients, and physicians, we are making major progress in that area. We have been demystifying clinical trials as a way to strive for having all individuals participate in cancer clinical trials."

Adams-Campbell's involvement in African medical research began in 1992 when, as a board member of the Association of Black Cardiologists, she chaired the American-African International Collaborative Scientist Symposium in Zimbabwe. She maintained research collaborations and partnerships with several African and Jamaican organizations and universities. Her African research focused on hypertension and clinical trials for prostate cancer treatment

Adams-Campbell served on the editorial boards and as a reviewer for scientific journals and on numerous international, national, and local committees. She was an outspoken critic of the NCI, accusing it of failing to recruit minorities for research studies and accusing its grant reviewers of bias against minorities. As of 2007 her research focused on the combination of genetics, behavior, and lifestyle that contributes to the disproportionate numbers of breast cancer cases among blacks.

Selected writings


"The Black Man's Challenge: The Prostate Cancer Dilemma," Journal of the National Medical Association, Vol. 90, No. 11, 1998.

"A New Vision for the 21st Century," Journal of the National Medical Association, Vol. 91, 1999, pp. 133-136.

(With others) "Osteoporosis Prevention, Diagnosis, and Therapy," Journal of the American Medical Association, February 14, 2001, pp. 785-795.

(With others) "Estrogen Plus Progestin and Colorectal Cancer in Postmenopausal Women," New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 350, 2004 pp. 991-1004.

(With others) "A Prospective Study of Female Hormone Use and Breast Cancer Among Black Women," Archives of Internal Medicine, April 10, 2006, p. 760.


"Office of the Director: Strategic Framework for Action," Howard University Cancer Center, (December 18, 2006).



Black Issues in Higher Education, March 23, 1995, p. 26; March 18, 1999, p. 30.

Essence, March 2006, pp. 101-103.

New Pittsburgh Courier, April 5-11, 2006, p. B4.

Washington Informer, October 2, 1996, p. 1.


"Lucile L. Adams-Campbell. Ph.D.," The African American Women's Institute, Howard University, (January 20, 2007).

"Lucile L. Adams-Campbell, Ph.D.," Howard University, (January 20, 2007).


Additional information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Dr. Lucile L. Adams-Campbell on January 25, 2007.

                                                                —Margaret Alic

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Adams-Campbell, Lucile L.

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