University of California San Francisco
Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center
Galen Joseph, PhD

Galen Joseph, PhD

Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, History, and Social Medicine, UCSF

Cancer Center Program Memberships

Cancer Control

Research Summary

Trained as a cultural anthropologist, I have been working at the intersection of medical anthropology and public health for over a decade. With expertise in health disparities, I have extensive experience conducting research on hereditary cancer screening and genetic counseling in diverse and low-income populations. I utilize mixed qualitative and quantitative research methods, often in the context of community based participatory research.

My current study, "Translating Cancer Genetics to the Safety Net Setting" (Susan G. Komen, 2012-2016), builds on pilot research with low-income Latinas undergoing genetic counseling. Based at two public hospitals, this ethnographic study inductively describes current practices in hereditary breast cancer communication with low-income English-, Spanish-, and Cantonese-speaking patients; identifies key dimensions of genetic counseling communication across cultures and literacy levels; and pilot tests an intervention with counselors to improve genetic counseling communication.

I have also been a Co-I on two recently completed studies to develop and test interventions to increase hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC) screening. The NCI-funded R01 study, "Statewide Communication for High-Risk Low Income Women" (2007-12), was a randomized delayed control trial to test the effectiveness of an intervention to identify uninsured women at risk for HBOC among callers to California’s statewide free breast and cervical cancer screening phone service. In addition, I was a founding member of the International Network for the Comparative understanding of BRCA breast cancer gene research and medical practices, a collaboration with European social science scholars (2009-2014). The network organized workshops and conferences, and published a special section of the journal BioSocieties in 2010, and produced an edited volume Breast Cancer Gene Research and Medical Practices: Transnational Perspectives in the time of BRCA.

A second key area of my research is communication about cancer clinical trials with vulnerable patients. I am PI of "Engaging Underserved Women in Health Research" (California Breast Cancer Research Program, 2014-2017), a randomized controlled trial of a patient navigator intervention with multilingual low-income breast cancer patients and survivors to increase information about and access to breast cancer research participation opportunities. I previously conducted ethnographic research on recruitment practices at public, academic, and private community-based oncology clinics to elucidate mechanisms by with potential participants are included and excluded from clinical research (ACS, Dohan 2005-2010).


Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, B.A., 1988, Anthropology
University of California, Santa Cruz, M.A., 1993, Cultural Anthropology
University of California, Santa Cruz, Ph.D., 1999, Cultural Anthropology
Yale University, Center for International & Area Studies, Post-Doctoral Fellowship, 2001, Migration, Globalization, & Citizenship

Professional Experience

  • 1988-1989
    Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation, Immigrant Advocate Permanent Housing Program for Homeless Families
  • 1989-1991
    National Council of Jewish Women Program Manager Child Care Program for Working Women
  • 1991-2000
    University of California, Santa Cruz Instructor, Teaching Fellow, Teaching Assistant Departments of Anthropology, Sociology, Women's Studies
  • 1999-2002
    Institute for the Future , Research Manager , Palo Alto, CA
  • 2002-2003
    Criterion Consulting Ethnographic Research Consultant, Health Insurance for Faith Organizations Project
  • 2003-2004
    University of California, San Francisco, Research Associate, Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine; Comprehensive Cancer Center; Institute for Health and Aging
  • 2008-2013
    University of California, San Francisco, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, History & Social Medicine
  • 2013-present
    University of California, San Francisco, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, History & Social Medicine

Honors & Awards

  • 1999
    Advanced Studies Fellowship; Anthropology and Education Institute
    Spencer Foundation

  • 1998
    Spencer Foundation Dissertation Writing Fellowship
    Spencer Foundation

  • 1994
    Wenner-Gren Foundation Dissertation Research Fellowship
    Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research

  • 1991
    UCSC Graduate Division Fellowship
    University of California, Santa Cruz

  • 1993
    Sigma Xi Graduate Research Grant
    Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society

  • 1992
    Graduate Fellowship Honorable Mention
    National Science Foundation

  • 1992
    UCSC Anthropology Department Research Grant
    University of California, Santa Cruz

  • 1987
    Wesleyan University Anthropology Department Research Grant
    Wesleyan University

Selected Publications

  1. Van Blarigan EL, Chan H, Van Loon K, Kenfield SA, Chan JM, Mitchell E, Zhang L, Paciorek A, Joseph G, Laffan A, Atreya CE, Fukuoka Y, Miaskowski C, Meyerhardt JA, Venook AP. Self-monitoring and reminder text messages to increase physical activity in colorectal cancer survivors (Smart Pace): a pilot randomized controlled trial. BMC Cancer. 2019 Mar 11; 19(1):218.
    View on PubMed
  2. Nickell A, Stewart SL, Burke NJ, Guerra C, Cohen E, Lawlor C, Colen S, Cheng J, Joseph G. Engaging limited English proficient and ethnically diverse low-income women in health research: A randomized trial of a patient navigator intervention. Patient Educ Couns. 2019 Feb 11.
    View on PubMed
  3. Joseph G, Lee R, Pasick RJ, Guerra C, Schillinger D, Rubin S. Effective communication in the era of precision medicine: A pilot intervention with low health literacy patients to improve genetic counseling communication. Eur J Med Genet. 2018 Dec 13.
    View on PubMed
  4. Lara-Otero K, Weil J, Guerra C, Cheng JKY, Youngblom J, Joseph G. Genetic Counselor and Healthcare Interpreter Perspectives on the Role of Interpreters in Cancer Genetic Counseling. Health Commun. 2018 Sep 19; 1-11.
    View on PubMed
  5. Amendola LM, Berg JS, Horowitz CR, Angelo F, Bensen JT, Biesecker BB, Biesecker LG, Cooper GM, East K, Filipski K, Fullerton SM, Gelb BD, Goddard KAB, Hailu B, Hart R, Hassmiller-Lich K, Joseph G, Kenny EE, Koenig BA, Knight S, Kwok PY, Lewis KL, McGuire AL, Norton ME, Ou J, Parsons DW, Powell BC, Risch N, Robinson M, Rini C, Scollon S, Slavotinek AM, Veenstra DL, Wasserstein MP, Wilfond BS, Hindorff LA, Plon SE, Jarvik GP. The Clinical Sequencing Evidence-Generating Research Consortium: Integrating Genomic Sequencing in Diverse and Medically Underserved Populations. Am J Hum Genet. 2018 Sep 06; 103(3):319-327.
    View on PubMed
  6. Atreya CE, Kubo A, Borno HT, Rosenthal B, Campanella M, Rettger JP, Joseph G, Allen IE, Venook AP, Altschuler A, Dhruva A. Being Present: A single-arm feasibility study of audio-based mindfulness meditation for colorectal cancer patients and caregivers. PLoS One. 2018; 13(7):e0199423.
    View on PubMed
  7. Cheng JKY, Guerra C, Pasick RJ, Schillinger D, Luce J, Joseph G. Cancer genetic counseling communication with low-income Chinese immigrants. J Community Genet. 2018 Jul; 9(3):263-276.
    View on PubMed
  8. Joseph G, Pasick RJ, Schillinger D, Luce J, Guerra C, Cheng JKY. Erratum to: Information Mismatch: Cancer Risk Counseling with Diverse Underserved Patients. J Genet Couns. 2017 10; 26(5):1105.
    View on PubMed
  9. Kamara D, Weil J, Youngblom J, Guerra C, Joseph G. Cancer Counseling of Low-Income Limited English Proficient Latina Women Using Medical Interpreters: Implications for Shared Decision-Making. J Genet Couns. 2018 02; 27(1):155-168.
    View on PubMed
  10. Joseph G, Pasick RJ, Schillinger D, Luce J, Guerra C, Cheng JKY. Information Mismatch: Cancer Risk Counseling with Diverse Underserved Patients. J Genet Couns. 2017 Oct; 26(5):1090-1104.
    View on PubMed
  11. Berg JS, Agrawal PB, Bailey DB, Beggs AH, Brenner SE, Brower AM, Cakici JA, Ceyhan-Birsoy O, Chan K, Chen F, Currier RJ, Dukhovny D, Green RC, Harris-Wai J, Holm IA, Iglesias B, Joseph G, Kingsmore SF, Koenig BA, Kwok PY, Lantos J, Leeder SJ, Lewis MA, McGuire AL, Milko LV, Mooney SD, Parad RB, Pereira S, Petrikin J, Powell BC, Powell CM, Puck JM, Rehm HL, Risch N, Roche M, Shieh JT, Veeraraghavan N, Watson MS, Willig L, Yu TW, Urv T, Wise AL. Newborn Sequencing in Genomic Medicine and Public Health. Pediatrics. 2017 Feb; 139(2).
    View on PubMed
  12. Burke NJ, Napoles TM, Banks PJ, Orenstein FS, Luce JA, Joseph G. Survivorship Care Plan Information Needs: Perspectives of Safety-Net Breast Cancer Patients. PLoS One. 2016; 11(12):e0168383.
    View on PubMed
  13. Stewart SL, Kaplan CP, Lee R, Joseph G, Karliner L, Livaudais-Toman J, Pasick RJ. Validation of an Efficient Screening Tool to Identify Low-Income Women at High Risk for Hereditary Breast Cancer. Public Health Genomics. 2016; 19(6):342-351.
    View on PubMed
  14. Pasick RJ, Joseph G, Stewart S, Kaplan C, Lee R, Luce J, Davis S, Marquez T, Nguyen T, Guerra C. Effective Referral of Low-Income Women at Risk for Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer to Genetic Counseling: A Randomized Delayed Intervention Control Trial. Am J Public Health. 2016 Oct; 106(10):1842-8.
    View on PubMed
  15. Joseph G, Chen F, Harris-Wai J, Puck JM, Young C, Koenig BA. Parental Views on Expanded Newborn Screening Using Whole-Genome Sequencing. Pediatrics. 2016 Jan; 137 Suppl 1:S36-46.
    View on PubMed
  16. Nickell A, Burke NJ, Cohen E, Caprio M, Joseph G. Educating low-SES and LEP survivors about breast cancer research: pilot test of the Health Research Engagement Intervention. J Cancer Educ. 2014 Dec; 29(4):746-52.
    View on PubMed
  17. Joseph G, Guerra C. To worry or not to worry: breast cancer genetic counseling communication with low-income Latina immigrants. J Community Genet. 2015 Jan; 6(1):63-76.
    View on PubMed
  18. Sahra Gibbon, Galen Joseph, Jessica Mozersky, Andrea zur Nieden, Sonja Palfner, Editors. Breast Cancer Gene Research and Medical Practices: Transnational Perspectives in the Time of BRCA. 2014.
    View on PubMed
  19. Joseph, G. Breast Cancer Gene Research and Medical Practices: Transnational Perspectives in the Time of BRCA. Gibbon S, Joseph G, Mozersky J, zur Nieden A, Palfner S, Editors. Genetics to the People: BRCA as public health and the dissemination of cancer risk knowledge. 2014.
    View on PubMed
  20. Hitch K, Joseph G, Guiltinan J, Kianmahd J, Youngblom J, Blanco A. Lynch syndrome patients' views of and preferences for return of results following whole exome sequencing. J Genet Couns. 2014 Aug; 23(4):539-51.
    View on PubMed

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