Marie-Élise Parent

Professeur INRS

Areas of expertise

Cancer epidemiology , Prostate cancer




Armand-Frappier Santé Biotechnologie Research Centre

531 blvd. des Prairies
Laval, Quebec  H7V 1R7

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Interested research topics

Prevention is the best ammunition against cancer and it is imperative to identify the risk factors implicated in its development.

The research activities of Dr. Parent aim at evaluating, through epidemiologic studies, whether exposure to different environmental, lifestyle, and genetic factors plays a role in cancer etiology. Her research program focuses especially on prostate cancer prevention.

Students interested in pursuing M.Sc., Ph.D. or postdoctoral studies in the area of cancer epidemiology are invited to contact Dr. Parent at

Dr. Marie-Elise Parent is Full Professor in epidemiology at Armand-Frappier Santé Biotechnologie Research Centre. She obtained a B.Sc. in nutrition (1984) from the University of Montreal, an M.Sc. in nutrition, option epidemiology (1988) from the University of Toronto and a Ph.D. in nutrition, option epidemiology (1994) from the University of Montreal. She then completed her postdoctoral training in environmental epidemiology at the Institut Armand-Frappier (1995-1998).

She is also Adjunct professor at the School of Public Health of the University of Montreal, in the Department of social and preventive medicine, and researcher at University of Montreal’s Hospital Research Centre. Dr. Parent carries out epidemiologic studies on the role of environmental, occupational, lifestyle and genetic factors in cancer etiology. She has a particular interest in the area of occupational exposure assessment. Her research activities have been funded by the Cancer Research Society in partnership with the Quebec Government and the Fonds de la recherche du Québec – Santé, the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the National Institutes of Health (US-NIH), the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board de l’Ontario, the Ministry of Labour of Ontario and Prostate Cancer Canada.

She has received career awards from the Fonds de la recherche du Québec – Santé. Marie-Elise Parent has been a member of scientific advisory committees of Health Canada, Prostate Cancer Canada and the Cancer Research Society. She has served on several peer-review committees, including for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Fonds de la recherche du Québec – Santé, the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute, the National Toxicology Program (NIEHS-NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NIH). She sits on the editorial boards of Cancer Epidemiology and of Frontiers in Oncolology – Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention. She has served on the Boards of Directors of the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Society for Epidemiology and Biostatistics, and the Institut national de la recherche scientifique. In 2012, Professor Parent was awarded the Alice Hamilton Award, Honorable Mention, Exposure and Risk Assessment Category, National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, Georgia. She also received the IRSST-Club des Amassadeurs award in 2020.  Research projects Quebec Research Program for Prostate Cancer PreventionFunded by the GRePEC Environment-Cancer Program, a partnership between the Cancer Research Society, the Quebec Government and the Fonds de recherche du Québec-Santé ($4.7M).

This vast research program builds on data collected as part of the Case-control study of environmental, occupational, lifestyle factors and genetic susceptibility biomarkers in the etiology of prostate cancer funded by the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute ($1.9M). Prostate cancer continues to be the most frequently occurring cancer among Canadian men. Each year, about 24,000 Canadian men are diagnosed with this cancer and 4,100 die from it. Although prostate cancer has a very good prognosis, many cancer survivors will have to cope, as a result of their disease or treatment, with lasting side effects seriously impairing their quality of life. The unfavorable circumstances that follow a diagnosis of prostate cancer clearly highlight the need to find ways to prevent this disease; this, in turn, means identifying modifiable risk factors. Efforts to elucidate the risk factors for prostate cancer have met with little success to date. The only established risk factors are the age, the ancestry and a family history of the disease. The temporal and geographic distributions of prostate cancer provide compelling evidence that its etiology involves environmental influences. Occupational agents and lifestyle represent potential environmental risk factors that are both promising and under-studied. Moreover, susceptibility genes are at the cutting edge of prostate cancer research. In the context of a population-based case-control study carried out in Montreal, we have recruited 2,000 incident cases of prostate cancer and 2,000 controls from the general population.

Interviews have been carried out to explore the role of some 300 substances encountered in the workplace. Other occupational factors under scrutiny include night work and stress at work. Moreover, we are assessing the role of several lifestyle factors for which more evidence needs to be accrued, i.e., physical activity (occupational, household, recreational), sexual habits, lifetime body size and abdominal obesity, baldness patterns, smoking, and alcohol. We are also assessing the role of exposures in the residential environment of study subjects. DNA samples have allowed us to carry out genome-wise association study and we plan to assess the role of relevant genetic polymorphisms (mainly carcinogen metabolizing and hormone-related genes); these may influence susceptibility to prostate cancer either alone, or in combination with occupational or lifestyle risk factors. This research infrastructure, perhaps the largest of its kind in the world, represents a unique and long-range research effort into prostate cancer prevention. Statistical analyses of data are on-going.  Workplace exposures and prostate cancer: analysis and reporting on a Canadian population-based studyFunded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research ($608,176) There is compelling evidence from the geographic distribution of prostate cancer and from migrant studies that environmental factors play a role in the development of this cancer. However, modifiable risk factors have yet to be identified so prevention has not been possible. Other than for pesticides, very little research has been conducted on environmental chemicals in prostate cancer etiology. Several chemicals are themselves carcinogens or act as hormone modulators, and could be implicated. The workplace represents a preferential window to study these since many are encountered there at higher levels, facilitating their measurement. Since most workplace chemicals eventually make their way into the general environment, such exposures are not only relevant to workers but also to the entire population. The absence of large occupational studies benefiting from strong exposure assessment has been the major drawback to advancing knowledge in this area. In 2002-2015, Canadian funding agencies funded what is to our knowledge the largest and most comprehensive population-based case-control study of prostate cancer to assess the etiological role of environmental exposures. Some 4,000 men were recruited and interviewed to elicit information on a wide range of sociodemographic, lifestyle and medical factors. Lifetime work histories, representing 15,727 detailed job descriptions, were collected and translated into exposure to hundreds of specific chemical agents. For each agent, the assessment included the intensity, frequency, certainty and duration of exposure.

Using state-of-the art methodological approaches, we assembled an unparalleled occupational database enabling to study the role that lifetime exposure to occupational chemicals, night work and physical activity/inactivity play in prostate cancer development. The coding of this colossal occupational component was completed in 2015. We are now entering the data analysis and dissemination phase of the study. This protocol outlines 19 analytical subprojects to be undertaken over the course of the grant. It focuses on suspected exposures with hormone-modulating properties and/or previous evidence such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, petroleum-derived liquids, engine emissions and combustion products, solvents, welding fumes, resins and polymers, metals, painting-related chemicals, and pesticides.

Other projects focus on night work and on physical activity/inactivity at work. Exposures will be analysed individually and combined, taking into account co-exposures, confounding and interactions. We propose here an exciting, innovative and far-reaching data analysis project, benefiting from a solid expertise in occupational epidemiology, exposure assessment and biostatistics, and involving trainees. This project, representing a major advance in the field, will generate important new knowledge towards the establishment of preventive measures against prostate cancer.  Personal and neighbourhood indicators of social deprivation, and risk of prostate cancerFunded by the Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research ($198,568) Social relationships influence health behaviours, and likely impact the entire cancer continuum, from development to survival. While individuals with limited social ties show poorer cancer prognoses, how various social environments influence the risk of developing prostate cancer is unknown. To study this, Dr Parent and her team will evaluate how potential indicators of social deprivation at the personal (e.g., being a widow), workplace (e.g., night work) and neighbourhood (e.g., area with many people living alone) levels are associated with prostate cancer risk. This first study examining various spheres of the social environment, across the life course, opens the door to intervention among vulnerable populations and prevention. The study assembled a new team of researchers with relevant expertise to study how limited social relationships, isolation and adverse social environments impact on the development of prostate cancer. Statistical analyses will be conducted on an existing database created from a vast population-based study of prostate cancer (PROtEuS), funded by Canadian granting agencies in 2002-2022. This dataset will be augmented by grafting new sources of information from registries and surveillance databases. A wide range of indicators of social environment at various levels (personal, work and neighbourhood), and across the life course, will be studied. This will be the first study ever to explore the potential role of multiple spheres of the social environment, over a 20-year period, in the development of prostate cancer.  Potential predictors of prostate cancer developmentFunded by the Cancer Research Society ($56,831) The detection of prostate cancer generally relies on the PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test and the digital rectal exams. While useful, these tests do not necessarily predict well the presence of cancer or whether it is aggressive or not. We know that risk of the disease is greater with age, a family history of prostate cancer and among men of African ancestry. Identifying additional factors that could be used, in conjunction with other clinical tools, to identify individuals who are at higher risks of developing prostate cancer, especially in its aggressive form, would represent a major scientific progress. This would help focus cancer detection efforts in more susceptible sub-groups of the population and, as a result, lead to earlier detection and improved cancer management. We propose here to study three highly innovative potential indicators of the risk of prostate cancer development. The first is baldness and chest hair patterns, the other is based on finger lengths (reflecting past hormonal exposures), and the third is male infertility. See PubMed


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