Arizona Cancer Center Physician, Scientist Receives $3.68 Million Grant

Karen Weihs
Karen Weihs

Arizona Cancer Center physician and scientist Karen Weihs, MD, has been awarded a grant totaling nearly $3.7 million from the National Cancer Institute.

The research grant – the first such grant Weihs has received – will enable Weihs to study emotion and depression in breast cancer survivorship.

Beginning in 2010, the five-year study will enroll 450 women with newly diagnosed breast cancer, monitoring the women closely through their treatment and survivorship.

The goal of the study is to determine what biologic, psychological and social characteristics may protect the patients from clinical depression, said Weihs, medical director of psychosocial oncology at the Arizona Cancer Center and an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona.

"Our patients will be assessed for genetic factors that may combine with stress to increase the risk for depression," Weihs said.

"We are particularly interested in differences in the overall stress of these patients' lives and the ways they cope with the emotional turmoil of the first year after breast cancer," she said.

"We want to understand how close relationships may buffer the effects of stress," said Weihs, who also practices psychiatry, providing individual and family psychotherapy as well as pharmacotherapy services to cancer patients.

For the past 10 years, Dr. Weihs has been investigating how close relationships affect a woman's mental and physical health after she is diagnosed with breast cancer. Her clinical practice is focused on mental health care for cancer patients. Dr. Weihs joined UA in 2005 from George Washington University.

Serving as co-principal investigator on the study will be Annette Stanton, PhD, professor of psychology and psychiatry/biobehavioral sciences and member of UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.