Nicole Urban

Appointments and Affiliations

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Public Health Sciences Division
Molecular Diagnostics Program
Associate Head, Appointed: 2006
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Women's Cancer Research Program
Co-Program Head, Appointed: 2008
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Public Health Sciences Division
Solid Tumor Affinity Group
Head, Appointed: 2008
University of Washington
School of Public Health and Community Medicine
Department of Health Sciences
Research Professor, Appointed: 2000
Professional Headshot of Nicole  Urban

Mailing Address

Molecular Diagnostics Program
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
1100 Fairview Ave N
Seattle, Washington 98109
United States


Phone: (206) 667-6774
Fax: (206) 667-7264


Sc.D., 1978.
M.S., 1973.

Research Interests

Ovarian cancer
Breast cancer
Cancer screening
Cost-effectiveness analysis
Diagnostic imaging
Health economics

Dr. Urban heads the Translational and Outcomes Research (TOR) group at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. TOR spans the process of discovery, development, and evaluation of targets and interventions to improve outcomes for individuals at risk for cancer. The translational component involves working closely with clinical as well as laboratory researchers, and with patients as well as with healthy individuals. It involves comparative genomics and proteomics and the development of statistical methods to analyze gene expression and biomarker data. Our emphasis is on early detection and immunotherapy for prevention of cancer and/or recurrence of cancer, particularly ovarian and breast cancer. The outcomes component emphasizes modeling and cost-effectiveness analysis, including mathematical modeling of disease progression, modeling of the behavior of biomarkers in the absence and presence of cancer, and measurement and analysis of costs and quality-of-life. The work of TOR investigators includes interventions for current patients, both preventing recurrence (for example, vaccines to prevent recurrence of ovarian cancer) and improving quality of life in cancer survivors. It includes intervention trials, both randomized and Phase I.

Dr. Urban is also the Co-Program Head of the Women's Cancer Research Program (WCRP) at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The WCRP focuses on improving clinical outcomes in patients with reproductive malignancies at every stage of disease. The themes of the program are (1) developing novel treatments based on identification of genetic alterations involved in the malignant transformation, (2) prevention of relapse and eventually primary disease using immunotherapeutic strategies, and (3) early detection of disease.

In September 1999, Dr. Urban and colleagues at several West Coast collaborating research institutions were awarded an NCI Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant in ovarian cancer, which was renewed in July, 2004. The "Pacific Ovarian Cancer Research Consortium/SPORE in Ovarian Cancer" is a community-based, multidisciplinary, translational research program that involves clinicians, laboratory scientists and public health scientists. Its broad based approach takes full advantage of the scientific expertise available locally and allows the pooling of clinical resources, thus facilitating population-based studies despite the low incidence of ovarian cancer. POCRC research projects include: discovering genes that influence the responsiveness of ovarian cancer to chemotherapy treatments, creating an ovarian cancer vaccine that would attack ovarian cancer cells as soon as they develop, developing a statistical model that can estimate a woman's risk for developing ovarian cancer, and refining and improving the use of blood tests used to detect ovarian cancer. The POCRC also includes a Developmental Research Program and a Career Development Program. The group has established a well-characterized ovarian specimen repository housing over 200,000 individually identified specimens, and shared their findings with the broader research community through numerous presentations and publications.

In 2002, Dr. Urban was awarded by the DOD a "Center for the Evaluation of Biomarkers for the Early Detection of Breast Cancer." Investigators from 10 institutions are working together to evaluate breast cancer biomarkers for their contribution to the early detection of breast cancer. The study's goal is to define a biomarker panel that can be used in conjunction with current screening methods to improve early detection of all breast cancers, particularly aggressive cancers and those missed by mammography. Blood and tissue specimens for biomarker analysis are collected from women having annual mammograms and breast-related biopsies or surgery. This study utilizes the ongoing Mammography Tumor Registry for Breast Cancer Research to follow participants throughout the study and monitor their mammography data and breast cancer outcomes.

Her R01 awarded in 2002, "Modeling Ovarian Cancer Screening for CEA," allowed her to improve the accuracy of a previously developed microsimulation model of ovarian cancer screening by accounting for heterogeneity in the disease and in the population screened, in order to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of using a marker panel longitudinally to detect developing disease. The model now accommodates use of (1) a panel of serum markers for screening and (2) risk-based screening, incorporates QOL effects of both screening and disease, and incorporates updated screening and treatment costs. These efforts enable us to identify the potentially most efficient strategies for ovarian cancer screening and to report their cost-effectiveness.


American Public Health Association
American Society of Preventive Oncology
Association for Health Services Research
Society for Clinical Trials
Southwest Oncology Group

Previous Positions

2001-2008, Program Head, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Gynecological Cancer Research Program
1998-2005, Member, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Public Health Sciences Division, Cancer Prevention Research Program
1996-2005, Scientific Director, Marsha Rivkin Center for Ovarian Cancer Research


  • National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute: 'Validation of a Biomarker Panel for Early Detection of Breast Cancer in High-Risk Women', 2003 to 2004.
  • Department of Defense/U.S. Army: 'Center for the Evaluation of Biomarkers for the Early Detection of Breast Cancer', $1,114,579, 2002 to 2006.
  • National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute: 'Modeling Ovarian Cancer Screening for CEA', $166,250, 2002 to 2006.
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH): 'Pacific Ovarian Cancer Research Consortium' (SPORE in Ovarian Cancer), $1,727,230, 1999 to 2004.
  • Department of Defense/U.S.Army: 'Use of Novel Technologies to ID and Investigate Molecular Markers for Ovarian Cancer Screening and Prevention', $854,545, 1998 to 2001.
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH): 'QOL Effects of Ovarian Cancer Risk Education and Screening', $429,005, 1997 to 2002.
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH): 'Use of Mammography Tumor Registry for Breast Cancer Research', $344,603, 1997 to 2002.
  • Department of Defense/U.S.Army: 'Reaching Rural Mammographers for Quality Improvement', $425,050, 1996 to 1999.
  • National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute: 'Effects on Quality of Life of Consumer Involvement in Treatment Decisions', $99,609, 1995 to 1996.
  • Department of Defense/U.S.Army: 'Development of a Stochastic Simulation Model of the Cost-Effectiveness of Promoting Breast Cancer Screening', $182,182, 1994 to 1998.
  • National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute: 'Pilot for a Community Mammography-Tumor Registry', $184,880, 1994 to 1997.
  • National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute: 'Community Trial of Breast Cancer Screening Promotion', $458,333, 1993 to 1998.

Recent Publications

Urban ND, Thorpe J, Karlan BY, McIntosh MW, Palomares MR, Daly MB, Paley P, Drescher CW.  2012.  Interpretation of Single and Serial Measures of HE4 and CA125 in Asymptomatic Women at High Risk for Ovarian Cancer.. Cancer epidemiology, biomarkers & prevention : a publication of the American Association for Cancer Research, cosponsored by the American Society of Preventive Oncology. 21(11):2087-94. Abstract

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