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Seema Khan, MD

Bluhm Family Research Professor of Breast Cancer
Professor of Surgery
Feinberg School of Medicine
Northwestern University
Chicago, Illinois

Current Research

  • Seeking to identify alternative approaches for breast cancer prevention in high-risk women.
  • Clinical and laboratory studies are planned to advance an anti-progesterone therapy as a potential chemopreventive in BRCA-breast cancers.
  • These studies are a step towards improving prevention options for high-risk women.

Women who harbor a high risk of breast cancer or breast cancer recurrence may face years of anti-estrogen therapy or surgical removal of their breasts to reduce the likelihood of getting cancer. While these are effective preventive measures, they offer few options for women who do not tolerate anti-estrogen therapy or want to keep their breasts. Khan is conducting laboratory and clinical studies to test alternate approach using an agent that blocks the progesterone pathway.

Full Research Summary

The progesterone pathway is important in the development and progression of breast cancer, but anti-progesterone medications have not been used because of safety concerns and unproven effectiveness.

With BCRF support, Dr. Khan has studied new (and safer) anti-progesterone agents in breast cancer prevention models, with encouraging results. She has completed an early phase trial of telapristone in women with Stage I-II breast cancer and is analyzing data to identify a predictive biomarker to select patients for a larger trial.

The team is hopeful that this therapeutic approach can be used successfully for breast cancer prevention in individuals harboring mutations in the BRCA genes, and they are continuing to test anti-progesterone agents in laboratory models in preparation for a trial in this group of women. 

In the past year, Dr. Khan’s team found that telapristone partly prevents development of BRCA-driven breast tumors in laboratory models. They will continue this work in the next year and apply this knowledge to women with BRCA1 mutations.

Another area of interest and ongoing studies is the combined inhibition of progesterone and estrogen, which may allow lower doses of each drug, and will likely be more effective for prevention (and possibly treatment) of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.

These studies represent another step towards improving prevention options for high-risk women by making effective drugs more tolerable and more effective.


Dr. Seema A. Khan is Professor of Surgery in the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, and the Bluhm Family Professor of Cancer Research. She is the Co-leader of the Women’s Cancer Research Program at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center. Her research focuses on applying biomarker knowledge to improve breast cancer risk stratification and develop preventive interventions for high risk women. Her research is funded by the NIH (NCI), The Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the Avon Foundation, and the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Current studies include an examination of the effects of progesterone antagonists in women with breast cancer, and a study of breast cancer risk biomarkers in benign breast biopsy samples. In addition, Dr. Khan’s group is working on the development of transdermal delivery of drugs to the breast. She chairs a Phase III trial for the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group which will investigate the role of local therapy for the primary tumor in women presenting with Stage IV breast cancer. Recently completed research includes a case/control study of hormone levels in nipple aspirate fluid.

Grid Researcher Headshot - Khan S

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The ANN INC. Award (a division of ascena retail group inc.)

Area(s) of Focus