Breast Cancer is a Study of Prevention, Not Just Cause and Treatments

Breast cancer research is not just limited to the study of cause and treatments, it’s also a study of prevention. As an epidemiologist, Komen Scholar Dr. Abenaa Brewster wants to determine why some women develop certain types of breast cancer more often than others and what lifestyle behavior change implementation is needed to reverse the disease’s origination and progression.

“We know that in breast cancer some 30 to 40% of cases are caused by lifestyle choices,” she said. “Breast cancer is a lifestyle disease beyond genetics, and while it’s challenging to change behavior, we really can take a preventative approach.”

Brewster is a tenured Professor in the Department of Clinical Cancer Prevention at MD Anderson Cancer Center and has an adjunct appointment in the Department of Epidemiology. She is a medical oncologist in the Nellie B. Connally Breast Center and her clinical interest is the management of breast cancer, especially triple negative breast cancer. Her research is focused on investigating clinical and biological factors that affect breast cancer risk and survival. She is particularly interested in health disparities and has identified several potential causes for the poorer survival of obese and African American and Hispanic women with breast cancer.

About 15 to 20 percent of breast cancers are triple negative. These tumors tend to occur more often in younger women and black/non-Hispanic black/African-American women. They may also be more common among Hispanic women compared to white/non-Hispanic white women.

As a Susan G. Komen Scholar, Brewster is part of an advisory group of distinguished leaders in breast cancer research and advocacy. Chosen for their knowledge, leadership and contributions to breast cancer research, Komen Scholars lead and participate as reviewers in Komen’s scientific peer review process. They also serve as experts and advocates for Komen’s nationwide network of affiliates and in communities around the globe. Brewster became a Komen Scholar in 2016.

“My focus is on implementation…taking the next steps with the discoveries and knowledge we have,” she continued. “For example, we know that getting a double mastectomy doesn’t have a survival advantage. How can we help women make the most informed decision about this?”

In addition to her epidemiologic research, Brewster also works with the breast cancer advocacy community to provide education about breast cancer disparities and prevention and to develop new strategies to improve access to early screening and diagnosis to improve the overall health of women.

“Being a Komen Scholar has provided me the privilege and opportunity—really opened my eyes—to the power of breast cancer advocacy in the community. It has allowed me to travel places I otherwise wouldn’t have to meet breast cancer advocates and learn from them,” Brewster said. “These advocates have a deep passion for raising dollars for screening and advocacy.

“That’s why I tell patients that there are a lot of people fighting for you.”