Karen Weihs, MD

Professor, Psychiatry
Associate Professor, Family and Community Medicine
Email Address: 
Phone Number: 
(520) 626-8940

UACC Information

UACC Organizational Unit(s): 
Professional Bio: 

Dr. Weihs is Board Certified in Family Medicine and Psychiatry. She is the Medical Director for Supportive Care for Healing and Psychosocial Oncology at the Cancer Center. 

She completed medical school at the University of Iowa, followed by her residency training in Family Medicine. She studied Family Therapy at the Ackerman Institute during her Family Medicine residency.

After four years on the faculty of the Department of Family Medicine at Brown University, she returned to residency training at the University of Wisconsin, Department of Psychiatry where she completed training in Adult and Child Psychiatry.

Dr. Weihs launched her research career at the Center for Family Research at the George Washington University. She was federally funded to study families and illness, as well as teaching brief psychotherapy for psychiatry residents, providing psychiatric care for cancer patients and directing the Clinical Psychiatric Research Center for the conduct of clinical trials of pharmacologic interventions for anxiety and depressive disorders.

Dr. Weihs' current research aims to improve knowledge of how to prevent depression in patients with cancer and their family members, as well as to effectively treat stress and depression when they occur in cancer patients.

Dr. Weihs has been continuously funded for 20 years to conduct research on biobehavioral oncology, in close collaboration with oncologists at the George Washington University, Georgetown University and the University of Arizona.  She has conducted three prospective longitudinal studies to determine the impact of emotional and interpersonal processes on medical, psychiatric, functional and quality of life outcomes. These studies enrolled 179, 140 and 460 (two sites) subjects with multiple occasions (3, 8, 7 respectively) of in depth data collection over 1 – 3 years with seven year follow-up for disease outcomes.  This demonstrates Dr. Weihs' ability to design, conduct and publish results from work involving recruitment of cancer patients within a clinical setting, subject engagement and maintenance of the sample, management of budgets to complete all aims of the studies and collect as well as publish the results of this work As the PI, her research is informed by clinical experience providing preventive interventions and clinical psychosocial services to cancer patients and their family members.

Dr. Weihs' has been a Research Member of the University of Arizona Cancer Center, and the Medical Director for PsychoSocial Oncology since 2006. She currently co-leads the Mechanisms of Emotion, Social Relationships and Health Developing Research Program within the University of Arizona, Clinical and Translational Research Institute. In these capacities, Dr. Weihs collaborates with intervention scientists to test innovative approach to psychosocial interventions for breast cancer patients.

Clinical Information

Clinical Focus: 

Dr. Weihs provides psychiatric and survivorship care in her clinic, where she works closely with Dr. Mark Gilbert and a team of social workers and nurses to provide continuity of care for the psychosocial aspect of cancer care for the whole patient and family. 

Dr. Weihs leads the Supportive Care for Healing program at The University of Arizona Cancer Center — North Campus, in which Survivorship, Psychiatric and Palliative Care clinics are integrated with other aspects of multidisciplinary cancer care.

Research Information

Research Program: 
Cancer Prevention and Control
Research Focus: 

Dr. Weihs has an R01 grant from the National Cancer Institute - Emotions and Depression in Breast Cancer Survivorship - which began enrolling subjects in April 2010. Martha Barron is the study coordinator for the project, which is advertised to breast cancer patients who may want to participate in the study as the MYA project - My Year After breast cancer.

This is an interdisciplinary, two-site project on which the co- investigator is Annette Stanton, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Member of the Johnsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, Division of Cancer Prevention and Control Research at the University of California, Los Angeles. Co-Investigators for this project from the University of Arizona include Alison Stopeck, MD, Leader of the Breast Cancer Research Team, as well as colleagues from the Department of Psychiatry including Richard Lane, MD, PhD, and Francisco Moreno, MD.

The Mood Changes in Cancer study is a health services pilot study, being conducted at The University of Arizona Cancer Center — North Campus. It is funded with pilot grants from the Arizona Institute for Mental Health Research and from the Developmental Research Program of the Cancer Center GI SPORE. Collaborative Depression Care Management is being implemented for this project and the rate of remission of major depressive disorder using this approach will be compared to the outcomes of depression treated with usual care.

The Oxytocin and Breast Cancer Project, funded by the USA Department of Defense, Breast Cancer Research Program is now in the long-term followup phase. This study builds on results of the prospective, longitudinal research Dr. Weihs began in the 1990’s with the Family Coping and Breast Cancer Progression Project, in which protective effects of increased dependable support from family and friends was found to predict increased survival time.

Selected Publications: 
Collaborative Research: 

In order to deepen the scientific basis for her oxytocin research program, Dr. Weihs initiated animal studies and studies of tumor pathology in collaboration with basic scientists at the University of Arizona Cancer Center. Denise Frank, PhD, and Dr. Weihs are Co-Principal Investigators on the project Development and Testing of an Animal Model to Study the Effects of Group Housing and Oxytocin on Breast Cancer Progression, funded by the Better than Ever (BTE) Program of the University of Arizona Cancer Center.

In another project funded by TRIF (the Arizona Technology and Research Initiative Fund), Ray Nagel, MD, PhD, is Dr. Weihs' clinical and basic science mentor on the study Development and Testing of Immunohistochemical Staining for Oxytocin Receptors: Extending Translational Research Skills. These activities are the foundation for an ongoing translational research program to study the physiologic mechanisms through which supportive relationships improve cancer outcomes.

Dr. Weihs also collaborates with Linda Larkey, PhD, on a study of Tai Chi for relieving fatigue in breast cancer patients, in addition to a pilot study of storytelling as a form of emotion expression for optimizing well-being after breast cancer diagnosis.

With Principal Investigator, Dr. Terry Badger, Dr. Weihs collaborates on studies of telephone interventions for couples coping with breast and prostate cancer.

Professional Information

Positions and Honors: 
2008 The Outstanding Clinical Care Award, American Psychosocial Oncology Society
2004 Fellow, Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research
2004 Comprehensive Member, University of Arizona Cancer Center
2003 Fellow, American Psychiatric Association
1996 Best Poster, Conference on the (Non) Expression of Emotions in Health and Disease, Tilburg, Holland
1990 Charter Fellow, American Assn. of Directors of Psychiatric Residency Training
1986 Outstanding Educator Award- Department of Family Medicine, Brown University
Other Experience and Professional Memberships/Affiliations: 
Board Member, Wynn Center for Family Research, Department of Psychiatry, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY
Medical Advisory Board, Accordant, Care Management Division of CVS-Caremark, Inc.
National Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee, CVS-Caremark, Inc.
American Psychosomatic Society, National Council Representative
Wynne Center for Family Research, University of Rochester – Board Member
Chair, Advisory Committee, General Clinical Research Center, University of Arizona, College of Medicine
Co-Director, Psychosomatic Medicine Interest Group, University of Arizona, College of Medicine
Chair, Psychosocial Oncology Leadership Team, University of Arizona Cancer Center 2006 – Present
Board Certifications & Licenses: 
American Board of Family Practice, recertified 2009
American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, permanent certification 1991

Academic Information

Fellowship: 
Child Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin, 1989- 1991
Residency: 
Family Medicine, York Hospital, York, Pennsylvania and Hunterdon Medical Center in Flemington, New Jersey 1979-1982
Medical School: 
The University of Iowa College of Medicine, Iowa City, IA
Undergraduate School: 
BS, Biology & Chemistry, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA