Leeuwen Floor V Lintje 20240119 02

Floor van Leeuwen awarded title of Knight in the Order of the Lion of the Netherlands at farewell

Epidemiologist and group leader Floor van Leeuwen was awarded the title of Knight in the Order of the Lion of the Netherlands. She received this distinction for her groundbreaking work from the mayor of Wageningen during her farewell symposium at the Netherlands Cancer Institute.

Floor van Leeuwen has been working as an epidemiologist at the Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI) since 1981, where she led the Psychosocial Research and Epidemiology Department between 2010 and 2022. Her research focuses on risk factors of breast cancer and ovarian cancer as well as the long-term effects of cancer treatment. Her research group at the Netherlands Cancer Institute investigates the risk of secondary tumors, cardiovascular disease, and infertility after radiation treatment and chemotherapy for lymphoma, testicular cancer, and breast cancer.

Van Leeuwen was one of the first in the world to prove that radiotherapy increases the risk of secondary cancer in the irradiated regions. This has led to a more precise follow-up of patients who have received radiotherapy, and increased precision in the irradiated regions. In her more recent work, Van Leeuwen showed that especially patients with a hereditary risk of breast cancer are extra sensitive to damage caused by radiation.

Long-term effects

During her career, Van Leeuwen also delved into the role of hormonal and genetic risk factors in the development of breast cancer and ovarian cancer. She was especially interested in the long-term effects of fertility treatment and the development of cancer in women with an abnormality in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. Her research showed that there is no increased risk of developing breast cancer in women who have undergone IVF treatment, nor in children who were born after IVF or ICSI treatment.

In the 1990s, Van Leeuwen and her colleagues founded the Hereditary Breast and Ovarian cancer study Netherlands (HEBON), which exists to this day. The study proves that the effect of birth control pills on the development of breast cancer or ovarian cancer in women with a BRCA1- of BRCA2 mutation is no different from that in women in the general population.

Role model and pioneer

She has mentored various PhD candidates, postdocs, and research assistants and has a wealth of knowledge and experience in cancer epidemiology in general, at the NKI and beyond.

After a symposium dedicated to her farewell, Floor van Leeuwen held her valedictory speech at the VU, where she works as professor. She officially retired in the summer of 2023, but will continue her research at the Netherlands Cancer Institute for a few more years.

Oeuvre Award

In 2019, Floor van Leeuwen received the Rosalind E. Franklin Award for Women in Science. The American National Cancer Institute awarded her this distinction for her scientific work in general, and more specifically, her ability to connect.

Knight in the Order of the Lion of the Netherlands

The Order of the Lion of the Netherlands was founded in 1815. It is conferred on individuals who have rendered exceptional service to the community, above and beyond what might have been expected of them, for example someone who has done pioneering (scientific) work of great value to society at large. The key word is always ‘exceptional’. Most people receive the class of Knight. Other notable figures who have received the distinction are Robbert Dijkgraaf and Louise Vet.


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