Dame Valerie Beral AC DBE FRS FRCOG FMedSci (born 28 July 1946) is an Australian-born British epidemiologist, academic and a preeminent specialist in breast cancer epidemiology. She is Professor of Epidemiology, a Fellow of Green Templeton College, Oxford and has been the Head of the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford and Cancer Research UK since 1989.
|Born||28 July 1946|
|Known for||Breast cancer epidemiology|
|Spouse(s)||Professor Paul Fine|
She then spent six months travelling the "hippie trail" through Asia of which she said "That taught me how much I wanted to work. But I still wanted to leave Australia." She then travelled to England and successfully applied for a job at the Hammersmith Hospital.
At Hammersmith Hospital, she worked under Charles Fletcher, who recognised that she was suited to epidemiology and so propelled her towards the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. There she completed a combined course in Epidemiology & Statistics in 1971–72 under the tutorship of Donald Reid. Beral felt very comfortable with the move because she had never felt happy in clinical medicine. She says that "she had never been able to understand how her peers could be so certain about making decisions on incomplete evidence. Epidemiology has offered her not an escape from that uncertainty, but the opportunity to tackle it head on." She is a member of the Royal College of Physicians.
One of Beral's first epidemiological interests was the combined oral contraceptive pill because of work she had previously done in family planning. Beral moved on to other projects but this is an area in which the data have yet to provide support for her initial instinct that the contraceptive pill, like pregnancy, will eventually be shown to protect against breast cancer. Later work included the effects of radiation, breast cancer trials and screening, AIDS, gene therapy, Hiroshima survivors, Chernobyl, food toxins, and much else. The British Medical Journal described her tally of jobs, publications, and committees as reading "like a checklist of the epidemiological causes célebres of the past three decades".
Beral completed her training in 1972 and began working for the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine for a number of years. From there she moved to direct the Cancer Research UK Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford in 1989. Beral said of being offered the role: "One of the major deterrents when I was offered the ICRF job in 1989 was the thought of being so much in the public eye. It's not my nature."
Beral has served on various international committees for the World Health Organization and the United States National Academy of Sciences. She also chairs the Department of Health's Advisory Committee on Breast Cancer Screening.
Beral was one of the leaders of the Million Women Study which was opened in 1997, and has recruited more than 1.3 million UK women over 50 via the NHS breast screening centres. The study is investigating how a woman's reproductive history can affect her health, with a particular focus on the effects of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). It is the largest such study in the world with one in four of UK women in the target age group participating.
In August 2003, Beral's group published results showing that taking HRT increases a woman's risk of developing breast cancer with an estimated 20,000 UK women aged 50–64 having possibly developed the disease between 1993 and 2003 due to HRT use. The study also showed that risk increases the longer a woman uses HRT, but drops to the normal level within five years after stopping use.
Beral lives in Oxford with her American husband, Paul Fine, who works at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
She maintains close links with her native Australia but "could not imagine returning to live there". Aside from concerns that Australia would hold little for her partner, Beral has also joked that "The population's too small!" to satisfy her needs as an epidemiologist.