Rutgers chief of Breast Surgery sets leading example for female doctors
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a month dedicated to raising awareness and funding for the disease.
According to a breast cancer awareness website, 1-in-8 U.S. women, approximately 12.4 percent, will develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetimes. This year alone there have been 266,120 new cases.
Dr. M. Michele Blackwood, the chief of Breast Surgery at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, has seen significant progress in treatment since she began around 1990.
She said when she first started as a surgeon, the operating rooms would be filled with all men. She would see breast cancer patients get up from the operating table with their bare chests exposed, surrounded by all men and they would have to change in front of men.
She said it lacked compassion, so at her place of work she said she asked if only she could be in the room when patients re-entered consciousness.
Treatment of breast cancer has improved significantly since she first began as well, with five-year survival rates jumping from 20 percent to 90 percent from around 1990 to now, she said.
After getting a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University, Blackwood obtained her medical degree from Medical University of South Carolina, according to a Rutgers Cancer Institute press release. She then completed an internship and residency at The Stanford Hospital, followed by a fellowship for the Breast Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Currently, she is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and is taking part in the Harvard Medical School for Surgical Leadership Program, according to the release. She is also certified by the American Board of Surgery.
“Breast cancer is a complex disease with multiple causes, types and treatment options,” she said. “I ensure that my patients are provided with the necessary information about their diagnosis, their genetics and their treatment options so that together we can determine the most appropriate and successful treatment plan to fit their lifestyle and conquer their disease. My dual roles across both Rutgers Cancer Institute and RWJBarnabas Health enable me to ensure that breast cancer patients do not have to travel far for state-of-the-art cancer care.”
Treatment options for her patients are personalized to their specific case, she said, whether it be surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or therapeutic.
For the future, she hopes breast cancer treatment conducts further research in genetics, she said. Genetics would allow doctors to identify certain cancer-causing genomes before the cancer develops, allowing preventative treatment and better outcomes.
The Rutgers Cancer Institute, along with its partner RWJBarnabas Health, offers advanced cancer treatment options including clinical trials and novel therapeutics such as precision medicine and immunotherapy, according to the release. Many of these treatment options are not available at other facilities across the state.
“Women should always get screened, especially if they are over 40 years old,” Blackwood said. “But to be safe they should get screened at 35, and if someone in their family has had it, they should get screened as early as 25.”
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