Karen J. Wernli, PhD

“I consider patients the core of my research.”

Karen  J. Wernli, PhD

Associate Investigator, Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute

Areas of focus:

Biography

Cancer screening is an important part of preventive medicine, but much is unknown about which screening methods work best for different groups of people. Karen Wernli is helping to narrow this gap through a rigorous research program in screening and prevention that spans breast, colorectal, and ovarian cancer.

An epidemiologist and 10-year veteran of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Dr. Wernli joined Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI) in 2009 and began a three-year career development award in comparative effectiveness research in 2010. The award’s rich coursework, mentorship, and training opportunities support her goal of answering key questions related to cancer screening and diagnostics.

She is now leading a Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) contract to compare breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to mammography for women already treated for breast cancer. There is little evidence to support the use of breast MRI for surveillance when physicians are looking for second breast cancers or recurrences of the first cancer. This 3-year $1.9 million contract engages patients and stakeholders to determine the best information for patient and physician decision-making. She is working with the Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium (BCSC) to evaluate these two technologies. Also through the BCSC, Dr. Wernli leads a study using data on more than 800,000 women aged 40 to 79 to determine if mammographic breast density is linked to the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Dr. Wernli  is a co-investigator of KPWHRI’s Colorectal Cancer Screening Registry, which is part of the National Cancer Institute’s Population-based Research Optimizing Screening through Personalized Regimens (PROSPR) program. Through PROSPR, she leads a study looking at colorectal cancer screening in real-world practice and how people’s use of it influences the tests’ effectiveness. She is also helping Kaiser Permanente Washington develop more effective prevention strategies—examining how patients use its online health risk assessment and comparing the effectiveness of interactive voice response to usual care on colorectal cancer screening rates.

Dr.  Wernli serves as a reviewer for several journals, including the American Journal of Epidemiology and Cancer Epidemiology,  Biomarkers & Prevention. A longtime member of the American Society for Preventive Oncology (ASPO), she was a recipient of the Prevent Cancer Foundation/ASPO Cancer Prevention Fellowship in 2009 and served as  co-chair for the annual meeting workshop with their Young Investigators.

Research interests and experience

  • Cancer

    Breast, colorectal, ovarian, and endometrial cancer; screening and surveillance; survivorship; patient-centered care; biostatistics; mammography; mammographic breast density; systematic reviews

  • Health Services & Economics

    Comparative effectiveness research; health outcomes research

  • Preventive Medicine

    Cancer screening and surveillance

  • Patient-Centeredness

    Patient engagement, stakeholder engagement, qualitative research methods

  • International Health

    Textile workers in China

Recent publications

Lee JM, Ichikawa L, Valencia E, Miglioretti DL, Wernli K, Buist DSM, Kerlikowske K, Henderson LM, Sprague BL, Onega T, Rauscher GH, Lehman CD. Performance benchmarks for screening breast MR imaging in community practice. Radiology. 2017 Jun 5:162033. doi: 10.1148/radiol.2017162033. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Sethi R, Buchlak QD, Yanamadala V, Anderson ML, Baldwin EA, Mecklenburg RS, Leveque JC, Edwards AM, Shea M, Ross L, Wernli KJ. A systematic multidisciplinary initiative for reducing the risk of complications in adult scoliosis surgery. J Neurosurg Spine. 2017 Mar 31:1-7. doi: 10.3171/2016.11.SPINE16537. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Balasubramanian BA, Garcia MP, Corley DA, Doubeni CA, Haas JS, Kamineni A, Quinn VP, Wernli K, Zheng Y, Skinner CS. Racial/ethnic differences in obesity and comorbidities between safety-net- and non safety-net integrated health systems. Medicine (Baltimore). 2017;96(11):e6326. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000006326. PubMed

Knerr S, Wernli KJ, Leppig K, Ehrlich K, Graham AL, Farrell D, Evans C, Luta G, Schwartz MD, O'Neill SC. A web-based personalized risk communication and decision-making tool for women with dense breasts: design and methods of a randomized controlled trial within an integrated health care system. Contemp Clin Trials. 2017 Feb 28;56:25-33. doi: 10.1016/j.cct.2017.02.009. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

 

Young Adults with Cancer

What young adults with advanced cancer are telling The Clare Project

Patients, families, caregivers, and providers are talking to researchers about care decisions and social media communities. Here’s what they’re saying.

Read about it in Healthy Findings.

Healthy Findings Blog

Patient-researcher helps advance care for other breast cancer survivors

Dianne Johnson tells how SIMBA study found room for improvement in information and support after breast cancer treatment.

Read it in Healthy Findings.

New decision aid

Breast cancer screening choice made easier by research-design team

A KPWHRI team finds an ideal partner to create a decision aid for women after breast cancer. Members of a human-centered design group tell their side of the experience.

Read it in Healthy Findings.

Breast Cancer Surveillance

Kaiser Permanente Washington Breast Cancer Surveillance Registry

Kaiser Permanente Washington has been part of the national Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium since 1994. Learn more about the Kaiser Permanente Washington Breast Cancer Surveillance Registry.