Mary Jane Esplen

Dr. Mary Jane Esplen is a Scientist, Clinician and Full Professor and Vice-Chair in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. She has dedicated her research to the field of oncology and to improving clinical outcomes and services. Dr. Esplen is the inaugural Executive Director of the innovative de Souza Institute, established in 2008 at University Health Network and funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care. The Institute is a national organization that provides current, innovative and accessible sources of educational support, professional development and career counseling to health care professionals serving hospice palliative and oncology patients and their families. Programs range from prevention to end of life care, and the Institute offers a unique learning pathway to achieve “de Souza Designations” - a gold standard demonstrating specialist expertise in cancer care. The Institute has expanded recently, offering its programs across Canada.

Dr. Esplen is a past President of the Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology and chaired the Psychosocial Subcommittee, Ontario Provincial Advisory Board for New Technologies in Genetics to inform new health services for genetic testing. She continues to work with the Ministry of Health for a variety of groups, from introduction of new technologies to end-of-life care. She serves on several boards of directors to support palliative care or the use of music in health care. She is now planning a trial to test music in hospice and palliative care settings.  In 2011, Dr. Esplen received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology (CAPO) for her contributions to the field of psycho-oncology.

Psychosocial Oncology: Studies of Psychological, Social and Quality of Life Impacts of Having Cancer or Being at Risk for Cancer

Dr. Esplen leads a research program focused on the psychosocial impact of receiving a cancer diagnosis or of being at risk of developing cancer due to a strong family history or genetic mutation. She has experience conducting a broad range of studies: her studies have involved BRCA1/2, Lynch Syndrome, FAP and pancreatic cancer; they have entailed the design, standardization and testing of psychosocial and psychotherapy interventions for individuals and families dealing with a cancer diagnosis or with a genetic predisposition; and she has lead descriptive studies that have identified the psychosocial impacts of undergoing genetic testing. Dr. Esplen’s research has produced validated psychosocial instruments now used in the field of cancer genetics. Her team developed and validated instruments for specific cancer genes to help clinicians and researchers measure the impact of carrying a cancer mutation on self-concept in BRCA1/2, FAP and LYNCH syndrome populations. Dr. Esplen also developed and validated a screening instrument to identify individuals at psychological risk who may require additional psychosocial care throughout the genetic testing process; this instrument has been translated into several languages and is being used in clinics worldwide.  

Dr. Esplen has a strong interest in women's mental health and women-centered psychotherapies. Other areas of interest to her include the use of guided imagery as a tool in psychotherapy. She has completed studies in mindfulness-based stress reduction and group therapy modalities among various populations, such as pain populations, HIV-risk and medical populations. Dr. Esplen recently completed a randomized controlled trial of a group model incorporating imagery exercises among breast cancer survivors with body image disturbance. Her findings demonstrated that participants who received the intervention experienced an enhanced body image and quality of life.
Int J Nurs Educ Scholarsh. 2018 Jan 05;15(1):
Esplen MJ, Wong J, Green E, Richards J, Li J
J Gastrointest Surg. 2016 Oct 17;
Muir J, Aronson M, Esplen MJ, Pollett A, Swallow CJ
BMC Palliat Care. 2016;15(1):8
Costa V, Earle CC, Esplen MJ, Fowler R, Goldman R, Grossman D, Levin L, Manuel DG, Sharkey S, Tanuseputro P, You JJ
Psychooncology. 2015 Apr 27;
Boquiren VM, Esplen MJ, Wong J, Toner B, Warner E, Malik N
Clin Genet. 2014 Oct 9;
Esplen M, Wong J, Aronson M, Butler K, Rothenmund H, Semotiuk K, Madlensky L, Way C, Dicks E, Green J, Gallinger S
J Community Genet. 2014 Oct;5(4):303-11
Carroll JC, Blaine S, Permaul J, Dicks E, Warner E, Esplen MJ, Rothenmund H, Semotiuk K, Worrall G, McLaughlin J
Genet Med. 2014 Apr;16(4):294-301
Graves KD, Sinicrope PS, Esplen MJ, Peterson SK, Patten CA, Lowery J, Sinicrope FA, Nigon SK, Borgen J, Gorin SS, Keogh LA, Lindor NM, Behavioral Working Group of the Colon Cancer Family Registry
J Community Genet. 2014 Apr;5(2):99-108
Keogh LA, Fisher D, Sheinfeld Gorin S, Schully SD, Lowery JT, Ahnen DJ, Maskiell JA, Lindor NM, Hopper JL, Burnett T, Holter S, Arnold JL, Gallinger S, Laurino M, Esplen MJ, Sinicrope PS, Colon Cancer Family Registry
Fam Cancer. 2013 Jun;12(2):325-39
Bleiker EM, Esplen MJ, Meiser B, Petersen HV, Patenaude AF


Primary Apppointments:
Executive Director, deSouza Institute
Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto
Vice-Chair, Basic and Clinical Sciences, Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto
Other Appointments:
Affiliate Scientist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
Past NCIC Scientist / CIHR Scientist Awards