Karen C. Johnson Contributes to New Way to Prevent Breast Cancer

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Karen C. Johnson, MD, MPH, professor and interim chair of the UTHSC Department of Preventive Medicine, has contributed to the discovery of a new treatment that reduces breast cancer risks in postmenopausal women.

Karen C. Johnson, MD, MPH, professor and interim chair of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) Department of Preventive Medicine, has contributed to the discovery of a new treatment that reduces breast cancer risks in postmenopausal women. Dr. Johnson is principal investigator for the Memphis portion of an international study to test exemestane, an agent that lowers estrogen concentrations and limits cancer cell growth in estrogen-dependent breast tumors.

Led by the National Cancer Institute in Canada, the ExCel phase III breast cancer prevention study found that participants taking exemestane showed a 65 percent reduction in invasive breast cancer risks compared with those taking a placebo. The study enrolled 4,560 postmenopausal women in the United States, Canada, Spain and France, with 200 participants in the Memphis area. Eligible women were required to have at least one risk factor for breast cancer, such as being 60 years of age or older or having had a tumor with a prior mastectomy.

“The 65 percent reduction in breast cancers is quite significant and can lessen the fear of breast cancer among postmenopausal women around the world,” said Dr. Johnson. “After an average three-year follow-up exam, the trial also indicated fewer aggressive tumors in women taking exemestane.”
Investigators are examining the possibility of continuing the trial to better understand the long-term effects of taking exemestane as a means of preventing breast cancer in women at high risk for the disease.
Dr. Johnson is co-author of an article about the ExCel clinical trial results published in the June 4 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, the most widely read, cited, and influential general medical periodical in the world. To read the article, visit: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1103507?query=featured_home.