Dr. Song Yao Song Yao, PhD

Song Yao


Specializing In:

Molecular epidemiology Cancer health disparities Cancer immunoepidemiology Cancer biomarkers

Special Interests:

Cancer health disparities Cancer treatment-related complications Cancer biomarkers Vitamin D

About Song Yao


I am a molecular cancer epidemiologist with extensive research experience, focusing mostly on breast cancer. I graduated from the Life Sciences College of Peking University in Beijing, China in 2003. I received my PhD in molecular epidemiology from Roswell Park Division of University at Buffalo in 2009, and continued a post-doctoral fellowship at Roswell Park. I was appointed to an Assistant Professor position in 2012, an Associate Professor position in 2014, and a full Professor position in 2020.


Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

  • Professor of Oncology
  • Department of Cancer Prevention & Control


Education and Training:

  • 2009 - PhD - Molecular Epidemiology, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Buffalo, NY
  • 2003 - BS - Life Sciences, Peking University, Beijing, China


  • Post-doctoral Fellow - Department of Cancer Prevention and Control, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Buffalo, NY

Professional Memberships:

  • American Association for Cancer Research (AACR)
  • South West Oncology Group (SWOG)


Research Overview:

A major area of my research is to understand the molecular and genetic underpinnings of cancer health disparities. Based on the unique resources with a large number of black and white breast cancer patients and controls from the Women’s Circle of Health Study (WCHS; PI: Christine Ambrosone, PhD), I have developed and led a number of projects to investigate the roles played by genetic inheritance, vitamin D and host immunity in determining the differential burden of cancer morbidity and mortality between the two racial groups. In particular, I am leading a five-year $6.6 million multiple PI R01 project funded by NCI (R01 CA228156) to characterize the somatic mutational landscape of breast cancer in a total of 3,000 Black women and to examine the etiological relationships between tumor mutations and epidemiological risk factors. Moreover, I am a multiple PI on two recently funded NCI R01 projects, R01 CA247281 to investigate if immune profiles in breast tumors from Black women differ from those in White women, are associated with differentially distributed risk factors, and to more aggressive tumors as well as to survival; and R01 CA241125 to pool data and biospecimens from several existing studies to aggregate a large cohort to investigate multi-level factors contributing to the better prognosis among Asian women diagnosed with breast cancer.

My other major research area is to identify molecular and genetic predictors of cancer survival and treatment toxicities. This work is mostly based on one of the largest breast cancer survivor cohorts, the Pathways Study (PIs: Lawrence Kushi, ScD; Christine Ambrosone, PhD), which has enrolled 4,505 breast cancer patients through Kaiser Permanente Northern California (KPNC) with active follow up since 2006. My R01 award co-led with Dr. Marilyn Kwan at KPNC (R01 CA166701) was to investigate lifestyle, genetic and molecular determinants of aromatase inhibitors-induced fractures in the Pathways Study. I am also leading several large team-efforts to perform genome-wide association analyses of common genetic variants with cancer survival and toxicities (X01 HG008335, R03 CA223730, and Rally Foundation Award).

At Roswell Park, I lead a fully equipped wet laboratory capable of performing various assays and procedures suitable for population studies. As my long-term overarching goal, I am particularly enthusiastic in translational and clinical research to apply scientific findings to cancer patients for better prevention, treatment and survivorship.

I have a considerable track record in attracting federal and private foundation grants. As of June 2020, I have been awarded four R01 grants and two R03 grants from NIH as a PI or Multiple PI, as well as two research grants from private foundations. I have also collaborated with a wide network of researchers nation-wide and served as a Co-Investigator on 12+ NIH grants.

The list below shows the completed and active projects that I lead as a PI or Multiple PI:

Rally Foundation Independent Investigator Award (Yao) 07/01/2020-06/30/2021
Genetic Basis for Ethnic Disparities of Bone Toxicities in Pediatric ALL

NCI R01 CA241125 (Gomez, Yao, Kushi) 06/08/2020-05/31/2025
Insights from Asian Populations into Disparities in Breast Cancer Prognosis and Outcomes

NCI R01 CA247281 (Ambrosone, Yao, Abrams) 06/01/2020-05/30/2025
Tumor Immune Contexture and Breast Cancer Disparities: A Multi-Disciplinary Study in Women of African and European Ancestry

NCI R01 CA228156 (Yao, Palmer, Zheng, Carpten) 02/01/2019-01/31/2024
Somatic Mutations and Their Etiological Determinants for Breast Cancer in African American Women

NCI R03 CA223730 (Yao, Kelly, Zhu) 12/05/2017-11/30/2019
Genetic underpinnings of ethnic disparities in bone toxicities between Hispanic and non-Hispanic children treated for acute Lymphoblastic leukemia

NCI R01 CA166701 (Kwan, Yao) 09/01/2012-06/30/2019
Lifestyle and Molecular Factors of Bone Health in Breast Cancer Survivors

NCI R03 CA192205 (Yao) 07/15/2015-06/30/2018
Exome Array Analysis of Reproductive Aging and Breast Cancer in African American Women

Susan G. Komen CCR12225973 (Yao) 11/27/2012-11/26/2016
Noncoding RNA Genetic Variations and Breast Cancer Chemotherapy Outcomes

DOD BCRP Predoctoral Training Award (Yao) 04/10/2008-04/09/2011
Vitamin D, Vitamin D Receptor Polymorphisms, and Breast Cancer Aggressiveness in African American and European American Women.

Featured on Cancer Talk


Full Publications list on PubMed
  • Yao S, Barlow WE, Albain KS, Choi J, Livingston RB, Blanco JG, Davis W, Rae JM, Yeh IT, Hutchins LF, Ravdin PM, Martino S, Lyss AP, Osborne KC, Abeloff M, Hortobagyi GN, Hayes DF, Ambrosone CB. Gene polymorphisms in cyclophosphamide metabolism pathway, treatment-related toxicity and disease-free survival in SWOG 8897 clinical trial for breast cancer. Clin Cancer Res. 2010 Dec;16(24):6169-6176. PMID: 21169260. PMCID: PMC3058716.
  • Al-Azhri J, Zhang Y, Bshara W, Zirpoli G, McCann SE, Khoury T, Morrison CD, Edge SB, Ambrosone CB, Yao S. Tumor Expression of Vitamin D Receptor and Breast Cancer Histopathological Characteristics and Prognosis. Clin Cancer Res. 2017 Jan 1;23(1):97-103. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-16-0075. Epub 2016 Jul 12.
  • Yao S, Kwan ML, Ergas IJ, Roh JM, Cheng T, Hong CC, McCann SE, Tang L, Davis W, Liu S, Quesenberry CP, Lee MM, Ambrosone CB, Kushi LH. Higher serum levels of vitamin D at diagnosis predict almost twofold better survival in a prospective cohort of 1,666 women with breast cancer: The Pathways Study. JAMA Oncol. November 10, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2016.4188 PMID: 27832250
  • Yao S, Hong CC, Ruiz-Narvaez EA, Zhu Q, Schaefer BA, Yan L, Lunetta KL, Haddad SA, Sucheston-Campbell LE, Lee K, Bandera EV, Troester MA, Rosenberg L, Palmer JR, Olshan AF, Ambrosone CB. Environmental and genetic contribution to population differences in systemic levels of inflammatory cytokines in women. PLoS Genet. 2018 Jun 7;14(6):e1007368. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1007368. eCollection 2018 Jun. PMID: 29879116
  • Yao S, Hu Q, Kerns S, Yan L, Onitilo AA, Misleh J, Young K, Lei L, Bautista J, Mohamed M, Mohile SG, Ambrosone CB, Liu S, Janelsins MC. Impact of chemotherapy for breast cancer on leukocyte DNA methylation landscape and cognitive function: a prospective NCORP study. Clin Epigenetics. 2019 Mar 12;11(1):45. doi: 10.1186/s13148-019-0641-1. PMID: 30867049
  • Gomez SL, Yao S, Kushi LH, Kurian AW. Editorial: Breast cancer in Asian and Asian American women: a different disease? J Natl Cancer Inst. 2019 May 15. pii: djz091. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djz091. PMID: 31093671
  • Palmer JR, Polley EC, Hu C, John EM, Haiman C, Hart SN, Gaudet M, Pal T, Anton-Culver H, Trentham-Dietz A, Bernstein L, Ambrosone CB, Bandera E, Bertrand KA, Bethea TN, Gao C, Gnanaolivu RD, Lee KY, LeMarchand L, Na J, Shah P, Yadav S, Yang W, Weitzel JN, Domchek S, Goldgar DE, Nathanson KL, Kraft P, Yao S, Couch FJ. The contribution of germline predisposition gene mutations to breast cancer risk in African American women. J Natl Cancer Inst 2020 May 19. pii: djaa040. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djaa040. PMID: 3242731