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Abenaa M. Brewster, MD, MHS

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Houston, Texas

Titles and Affiliations

Professor, Department of Clinical Cancer Prevention
Director, MD Anderson Nellie B. Connally Breast Center

Research area

Developing a new, blood-based screening tool for detecting breast cancer.


Annual breast cancer screening is an important component of preventive healthcare for average risk women starting at age 40. Mammograms, the gold standard for breast cancer screening, are imperfect and less helpful for fast-growing breast cancers, like the estrogen receptor-negative subtypes, which grow so quickly that they are often self-detected between mammogram intervals with a lump in the breast. To improve the precision of breast cancer screening, and increase capacity for detecting breast cancer early, Dr. Brewster and her team are working to develop a new blood-based cancer detection test, known as a liquid biopsy. Ideally, this test would allow for more personalized screening, where someone with a positive blood test can be offered more frequent screening—including breast MRI—while someone with a negative blood test would be safely advised to have less frequent screening mammograms or no screening at all.

Progress Thus Far

Dr. Brewster and her team developed a new liquid biopsy technology to detect exosomes, which are small particles secreted by cancer cells. This technique could provide a sensitive, easily accessible, and noninvasive method for the early detection of breast cancer and provide guidance on the frequency of other types of screening.

What’s next

The team will conduct a study to rigorously evaluate the performance and reliability of this technology in detecting exosomes in the blood of women one to two years before a breast cancer diagnosis. The team will also assess perceptions and preferences for this form of screening from a cohort of women at high risk of developing breast cancer. The findings could translate into increased rates of screening, earlier detection, and decreased mortality associated with breast cancer.


Abenaa Brewster MD, MHS is a tenured professor in the Department of Clinical Cancer Prevention at MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC) and has an adjunct appointment in the Department of Epidemiology. She is a Medical Oncologist, Director of the MD Anderson Nellie B. Connally Breast Center, and her clinical interest is in the management of breast cancer.

Her research team has developed a framework for investigating the decision-making process that women undergo in considering contralateral prophylactic mastectomy. Her research expertise involves using the tools of molecular epidemiology to investigate clinical, epidemiological, and biological factors that determine breast cancer risk and survival. She is particularly interested in understanding how tumor genomics, host genetic susceptibility, ethnicity, and obesity influence a woman’s risk and survival after a diagnosis of breast cancer. She has experience in the conduct and data management of hospital, population-based cohort studies, and is the principal investigator and director of a longitudinal cohort study of women at high risk of developing breast cancer.

Dr. Brewster is a Komen Scholar, an award given to individuals for their knowledge and leadership within the scientific, research, and advocacy communities and for their own contribution to breast cancer research. She completed her MD at Harvard Medical School and her Master of Health Science in Cancer Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene & Public Health.

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Delta Air Lines Award

Areas of Focus

Tumor Biology