After 40 Years, Kleinerman Retires from NCI

Dr. Kleinerman

Dr. Ruth Kleinerman

Dr. Ruth Kleinerman, staff scientist and deputy chief in the Radiation Epidemiology Branch (REB) retired from NCI’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics (DCEG) recently after 40 years of federal service.

She is widely recognized for her work in second cancers following treatment for retinoblastoma, a rare malignant tumor of the eye that occurs in childhood. 

Kleinerman collaborated with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the University of Massachusetts Medical Center to follow a large cohort of adult survivors of retinoblastoma to describe radiosensitivity and risk of second cancers among patients with the hereditary form of the disease. 

This work influenced clinical practice to reduce the use of radiation to treat these children and was recognized with an NIH Merit Award and two NCI DCEG awards for outstanding research paper by a staff scientist. In addition to documenting her findings in the scientific literature, Kleinerman created newsletters and a website to communicate results to participants and families. She won two NIH Plain Language Awards for her clear and effective writing.

In addition to her research on retinoblastoma, Kleinerman contributed to many other studies of second cancers. Her early research included investigations on long-term effects of curative radiotherapy for cervical cancer, benign gynecological disease and peptic ulcers. 

In addition to reporting dose-response relationships for over a dozen cancer sites, results from these studies demonstrated the potential to investigate second cancer risk from a range of radiation exposures. She also contributed to the first comprehensive mortality study in physicians conducting fluoroscopically guided interventional procedures, which reported an increased risk of leukemia in radiologists who graduated before 1940. She also helped launch a large international study on the risk of second cancers following proton therapy versus photon therapy in pediatric cancer patients. 

Kleinerman also collaborated on studies of environmental exposure to ionizing and nonionizing radiation. She was involved in the NCI-Children’s Oncology Group case-control study to address public health concerns about electromagnetic fields generated by power lines, a study that found no association between living near high-voltage power lines and risk of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She organized a large case-control study of radon and lung cancer in cave dwellers in China that included evaluation of other exposures such as cooking oil mutagenicity. Research on cooking fuels and indoor air pollution continues within the division and has been shown to be a significant risk factor for lung cancer among never-smoking women. 

In addition to her research, Kleinerman was central to the administrative functioning of REB, serving as the project officer for research support contracts and interagency agreements. She was also a dedicated mentor who received a DCEG Outstanding Mentor Award. 

Kleinerman joined NCI as an epidemiologist in 1979 after receiving her M.P.H. from Boston University. In 2016, she received a doctorate in public health from the University of London, U.K.

In retirement, she will serve as a special volunteer to the division.