National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month: A Father’s Legacy Leads to a Research Passion for Dr. Justin Brown

March 18, 2024 · Baton Rouge, LA

Growing up, Dr. Justin Brown thought his career path would lead him to become a union carpenter in New York City, but when he was 14 years old, his father passed away following a battle with colon cancer. From then on, Dr. Brown’s future career became instantly clear.

“My mission is motivated by the need to prevent children from having to watch their parents melt away from cancer,” Dr. Brown said.

Dr. Brown leads the Cancer Metabolism Research Program at Pennington Biomedical with a particular focus on cancer survivorship and prevention through nutrition, weight control, physical activity and chemopreventive strategies.

Although a sizable percentage of patients with colon cancer initially beat it, 30 to 50 percent of them relapse – and 90 percent of those who relapse die within two years. This is what happened to Dr. Brown’s father. At just 46 years old, he was diagnosed with early-stage colon cancer. At the time, patients under age 50 were not typically screened, so Dr. Brown’s father was too young to receive the devastating prognosis. He was cancer-free after surgery, but at 48, he relapsed.

“People say, I’m so sorry for your loss, and I tell them, ‘Don’t be,’” he said. “While I wish he could be sitting right here, I can tell you concretely, I wouldn’t be doing this.”

Evidence suggests that patients who are physically active after their first cancer diagnosis are less likely to relapse. Dr. Brown wants to understand how and why losing weight, managing weight and managing diabetes can prevent a relapse. His research builds on Pennington Biomedical’s strengths and further expands the center’s collaborative relationships with regional cancer centers and health professionals.

In a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers, led by Dr. Brown, found that physical activity can prevent, and not just delay, cancer recurrence in patients previously treated for colon cancer.

Through this research, the Cancer Metabolism Research Program has shown that aerobic exercise, like walking on the treadmill, reduces the number of circulating tumor cells in the body and potentially improves cancer prognosis by reducing the number of circulating tumor cells that can get to distant organs.

“We know that small steps toward healthy lifelong habits can make a big difference in how cancer survivors feel, function, and survive,” Dr Brown said.

The Cancer Metabolism Research Program is conducting a number of cancer-related clinical trials and is actively looking for participants from the area. Dr. Brown says that working with participants is the exciting part of his job.

“That’s taking the science and actually putting it into action,” Dr. Brown said. “People need to know what the scientists are finding, especially when the science is being discovered in your own backyard.”

Every 18 seconds someone is diagnosed with cancer in the United States and every 52 seconds someone succumbs to this devastating disease. Individuals living with cancer and those at risk for developing cancer deserve to know how purposeful changes to their lifestyle can alter their clinical course. Forty percent of all new cancers and cancer-related deaths can be attributable to obesity, diabetes, poor diet and insufficient activity.

“Pennington Biomedical, especially with researchers like Dr. Justin Brown, is helping lead the way for cancer and metabolic disease research for the betterment of those in Louisiana and beyond,” said Dr. John Kirwan, Executive Director of Pennington Biomedical.  

Reflecting on his work, Dr. Brown said, “My father left too early, but at the end of the day he is the motivation behind the work that I do here every day, finding ways to help people live longer with a higher quality of life. I am grateful for all those who have generously invested in our vision of a world where cancer survivors thrive.”

For more information on the Cancer Metabolism Research Program or the current research trials being conducted, visit

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Joe Coussan, Media Relations Manager,, 225-763-3049 or Ernie Ballard, Senior Director of Communications & Marketing,, 225-263-2677.

About the Pennington Biomedical Research Center

The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the triggers of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. The Center conducts basic, clinical, and population research, and is a campus of the LSU System. The research enterprise at Pennington Biomedical includes over 530 employees within a network of 44 clinics and research laboratories, and 13 highly specialized core service facilities. Its scientists and physician/scientists are supported by research trainees, lab technicians, nurses, dietitians, and other support personnel. Pennington Biomedical is a state-of-the-art research facility on a 222-acre campus in Baton Rouge. For more information, see

Pennington Biomedical Research Center
6400 Perkins Road
Baton Rouge, LA 70808