Karen Wernli, PhD, is a cancer epidemiologist and health services researcher whose work focuses on incorporating patient-centered outcomes to improve cancer care along the cancer care continuum, from prevention to survivorship. Her works spans several types of cancer, including lung, breast, and colorectal, and also explores the impact of cancer in special populations, such as adolescents and young adults. Her research strives to answer critical questions at the confluence of patients’ needs and clinical priorities. Overall, her research has resulted in approximately $30 million in research funding as principal investigator (PI) or site PI, more than 125 peer-reviewed publications (h-index 35), and more than 85 presentations at national conferences, symposia, and other public venues.
Dr. Wernli is a leader in multilevel intervention studies to improve lung cancer screening. She is currently conducting a pragmatic clinical trial funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to test 2 multilevel interventions to improve adherence to annual lung cancer screening at Kaiser Permanente Washington (R01CA262015). Study interventions were developed using a mixed-methods approach — including patient and stakeholder engagement and human-centered design methods — to determine gaps for interventions, relevant features of interventions, and design concepts. Further, Dr. Wernli is also leading a pilot grant from the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology to develop interventions to improve timely follow-up after a positive lung cancer screening scan. She is cancer care delivery research lead for the Kaiser Permanente Washington NCI Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP).
Dr. Wernli is a leader in the use of breast imaging in women with prior breast cancer, including in the use of breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Dr. Wernli recently completed a Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) project that compared breast MRI to mammography for women already treated for breast cancer. Called Surveillance Imaging Modalities for Breast Cancer Assessment (SIMBA), the study used data from the Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium (BCSC) and engaged patients and stakeholders to determine the best information for patient and physician decision-making. Dr. Wernli’s team translated that information into a new decision aid for breast cancer survivors. PCORI has recognized this work nationally and pointed to SIMBA as a model for effective patient engagement.
Dr. Wernli’s other breast cancer projects include collaborating with Natasha Stout, PhD, from Harvard University on an NCI-funded study to examine trends and outcomes related to the mandatory notification of breast density that has been enacted in many states. She also led research to determine temporal trends in the use of breast MRI over 10 years, based on indication for the scans. The analysis relied on national claims-based data across all 50 states.
Dr. Wernli is leading patient-centered research in adolescent and young adult (AYA) populations. She is a project co-lead with Kaiser Permanente Southern California researcher Erin Hahn, PhD, MPH, and Veterans Affairs researcher Neetu Chawla, PhD, MPH, in an NCI-funded project to evaluate health service utilization in early survivorship for AYA populations. The research is intended to identify multilevel gaps in health care utilization in AYA early-cancer survivors for forthcoming interventions. Previously, Dr. Wernli launched the Clare Project with KPWHRI researchers, including Marlaine Figueroa Gray, PhD, to understand patient, caregiver, and provider perspectives regarding medical decision-making for patients with advanced cancer. Using novel methods, all perspectives were garnered through social media recruitment. With NCI-funding, she has evaluated temporal trends and regional variation in end-of-life care in AYA cancer populations using national claims-based data.
Finally, Dr. Wernli is expanding her research expertise in clinical research studies beyond oncology clinical trials. She is principal investigator of a multisite study of flu and COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2022 to 2027. Her study team is annually enrolling about 1,200 participants with flu-like symptoms into her research.
Dr. Wernli is a member of the American Society for Preventive Oncology, the Society for Epidemiologic Research, the American Society for Clinical Oncology, and the American Association for Cancer Research. She is an affiliate professor of epidemiology and health systems and population health at the University of Washington and a professor of health system science at the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine.
Breast, lung, colorectal, ovarian, skin, and endometrial cancer; screening and surveillance; survivorship; patient-centered care; biostatistics; low-dose CT (LDCT); mammography; surveillance imaging; breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); systematic reviews; multilevel intervention studies; pragmatic clinical trials
Comparative effectiveness research, health outcomes research, patient-centered outcomes, health care quality, implementation science
Cancer screening and surveillance
Patient engagement, stakeholder engagement, qualitative research methods, mixed-methods, human-centered design
Lowry KP, Ichikawa L, Hubbard RA, Buist DSM, Bowles EJA, Henderson LM, Kerlikowske K, Specht JM, Sprague BL, Wernli KJ, Lee JM. Variation in second breast cancer risk after primary invasive cancer by time since primary cancer diagnosis and estrogen receptor status. Cancer. 2023 Feb 15. doi: 10.1002/cncr.34679. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed
Su YR, Buist DS, Lee JM, Ichikawa L, Miglioretti DL, Aiello Bowles EJ, Wernli KJ, Kerlikowske K, Tosteson A, Lowry KP, Henderson LM, Sprague BL, Hubbard RA. Performance of statistical and machine learning risk prediction models for surveillance benefits and failures in breast cancer survivors. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2023 Jan 25:EPI-22-0677. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-22-0677. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed
Shafer L, Ahmed F, Kim S, Wernli KJ, Jackson ML, Nowalk MP, Bear T, Zimmerman RK, Martin ET, Monto AS, Gaglani M, Reis M, Chung JR, Flannery B, Uzicanin A. Relationship between telework experience and presenteeism during COVID-19 pandemic, United States, March-November 2020. Emerg Infect Dis. 2023 Feb;29(2):278-285. doi: 10.3201/eid2902.221014. Epub 2023 Jan 4. PubMed
Price AM, Flannery B, Talbot HK, Grijalva CG, Wernli KJ, Phillips CH, Monto AS, Martin ET, Belongia EA, McLean HQ, Gaglani M, Mutnal M, Geffel KM, Nowalk MP, Tartof SY, Florea A, McLean C, Kim SS, Patel MM, Chung JR. Influenza vaccine effectiveness against influenza A(H3N2)-related illness in the United States during the 2021-2022 influenza season. Clin Infect Dis. 2022 Dec 12:ciac941. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciac94. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed
Jayasekera J, Zhao A, Schechter C, Lowry K, Yeh JM, Schwartz MD, O'Neill S, Wernli KJ, Stout N, Mandelblatt J, Kurian AW, Isaacs C. Reassessing the benefits and harms of risk-reducing medication considering the persistent risk of breast cancer mortality in estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer. J Clin Oncol. 2022 Dec 1:JCO2201342. doi: 10.1200/JCO.22.01342. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed
Tosteson ANA, Schifferdecker KE, Smith RE, Wernli KJ, Zhao W, Kaplan CP, Buist DSM, Henderson LM, Sprague BL, Onega T, Budesky J, Jackson-Nefertiti G, Johnson D, Miglioretti DL, Kerlikowske K Women’s breast cancer screening confidence by breast density and screening modality: A Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium Survey study. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2022;31(11):1547-56. Epub 2022/11/11. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2021.0649. PubMed
Ho TH, Bissell MCS, Lee CI, Lee JM, Sprague BL, Tosteson ANA, Wernli KJ, Henderson LM, Kerlikowske K, Miglioretti DL. Prioritizing screening mammograms for immediate interpretation and diagnostic evaluation based on risk of recall. J Am Coll Radiol. 2023 Mar;20(3):299-310. doi: 10.1016/j.jacr.2022.09.030. Epub 2022 Oct 20. PubMed
Kim SS, Chung JR, Talbot HK, Grijalva CG, Wernli KJ, Kiniry E, Martin ET, Monto AS, Belongia EA, McLean HQ, Gaglani M, Mamawala M, Nowalk MP, Moehling Geffel K, Tartof SY, Florea A, Lee JS, Tenforde MW, Patel MM, Flannery B; Strain Surveillance and Emerging Variants Team; Bentz ML, Burgin A, Burroughs M, Davis ML, Howard D, Lacek K, Madden JC, Nobles S, Padilla J, Sheth M. Effectiveness of two and three mRNA COVID-19 vaccine doses against Omicron- and Delta-Related outpatient illness among adults, October 2021-February 2022. Influenza Other Respir Viruses. 2022 Nov;16(6):975-985. doi: 10.1111/irv.13029. Epub 2022 Jul 29. PubMed
Holman A, Kross E, Crothers K, Cole A, Wernli K, Triplette M. Patient perspectives on longitudinal adherence to lung cancer screening. Chest. 2022 Jul;162(1):230-241. doi: 10.1016/j.chest.2022.01.054. Epub 2022 Feb 8. PubMed
Wernli KJ, Smith RE, Henderson LM, Zhao W, Durham DD, Schifferdecker K, Kaplan C, Buist DSM, Kerlikowske K, Miglioretti DL, Onega T, Alsheik NH, Sprague BL, Jackson-Nefertiti G, Budesky J, Johnson D, Tosteson ANA. Decision quality and regret with treatment decisions in women with breast cancer: pre-operative breast MRI and breast density. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2022 Aug;194(3):607-616. doi: 10.1007/s10549-022-06648-7. Epub 2022 Jun 20. PubMed
How KPWHRI is contributing to better cancer screening and better outcomes for patients.
KPWHRI receives $10 million to continue vaccine effectiveness research for flu, COVID-19, and other respiratory diseases.
New research spotlights overdiagnosis, MRI before surgery, and a new way of predicting breast cancer risk
The VOICE study aims to improve the health and health care of people who had cancer as adolescents and young adults.
By partnering with patients, KPWHRI researchers developed 2 new interventions to boost lung cancer screening.
New study calculates risk-based approach to detect the most cancers with the fewest exams.
An epidemiologist identifies who is appropriately undergoing this imaging for breast cancer and who is not.