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Vered Stearns, MD
Professor of Oncology
Director, Women's Malignancies Disease Group
Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center
Johns Hopkins University
Member, BCRF Scientific Advisory Board
Goal: To reduce breast cancer recurrence through effective weight loss interventions.
Impact: Dr. Stearns has been studying mechanisms that may explain the connection between obesity and breast cancer, as well as evaluating the success of weight loss interventions. Recently, she and her team demonstrated that a guided intervention was more successful in helping women lose weight compared to participants who were self-directed.
What’s next: She will continue to enroll women in a study of whether a sleep intervention could enhance the benefits of a weight loss. The team will also evaluate the effects of combining a weight loss medication (Contrave®) with their weight loss program in women with a history of breast cancer. In these studies, Dr. Stearns plans to assess how weight loss in overweight and obese patients alters the gut microbiome–the collection of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in the gut.
Being overweight or obese is one of several lifestyle factors that can increase the risk of breast cancer. Women with breast cancer who are overweight or obese experience inferior outcomes compared to those with normal weight despite receiving optimal therapies. Dr. Stearns is conducting studies to both develop effective weight loss interventions and reveal new information about how weight loss may reduce the risk of breast cancer, recurrence, and death.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Understanding the connection between excess weight and breast cancer and designing effective weight loss interventions to reduce the risk of cancer posed by obesity.
Impact: Women with breast cancer who are overweight or obese experience poorer outcomes compared to those of average weight, despite standard optimal local and adjuvant therapy. Most women gain weight following a breast cancer diagnosis, which may increase the risk of recurrence and death. Dr. Stearns is evaluating weight loss interventions that could ultimately reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence and death and prevent new breast cancer.
Current research: Her team has been developing a series of studies designed to assess weight loss approaches and how they affect breast cancer biomarkers. One recent study, called POWER-remote, evaluated the effectiveness of a remote (telephone-based) dietary counseling program in overweight or obese women with early stage breast cancer.
What she’s learned so far: Dr. Stearns has completed analyses of correlative studies in the POWER-remote trial. She found that 46 percent of women enrolled in the POWER-remote arm experienced more success in losing five percent of their weight compared to 11 percent of their self-directed peers at 6 months.
What’s next: She and her colleagues will continue to enroll women in their Cancer, Obesity/Overweight and Insomnia (COIN) study, which will assess whether a sleep intervention will augment the benefits of POWER-remote. They also plan to initiate a study evaluating the effects of a weight loss medication, Contrave® (naltrexone HCl/bupropion HCl) in addition to POWER-remote in women with a history of breast cancer.
In these studies, Dr. Stearns and her team will assess how weight loss in overweight and obese patients alters the gut microbiome diversity and metabolism. They hypothesize that those who lose at least five percent of their body weight at 6 months following POWER-remote will show alterations in the gut microbiome, with a decrease in the ratio of bacteroides and firmacutes.
Dr. Stearns joined the faculty at the Breast Cancer Program at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins in 2002. She was appointed as co-Director of the Breast Cancer Program in 2010, and to full Professor in 2013 and co-Director of the Breast and Ovarian Cancer Program in 2014.
Dr. Stearns’s long-term research goal is to improve current therapies by individualizing strategies for the treatment and prevention of breast cancer. Her main research includes utilization of biomarkers to predict response to standard regimens used to treat and prevent breast cancer and to introduce new treatments. Dr. Stearns and colleagues from the Consortium On Breast Cancer Pharmacogenomics (COBRA) Group were the first to evaluate the role of genetic variants in candidate genes such as CYP2D6 in tamoxifen metabolism, safety, and efficacy. The work has been extended to evaluate the role of genetic variants in aromatase inhibitor associated outcomes.
BCRF Investigator Since
The Estée Lauder Award