October 2019

Breast Cancer Awareness Month, perhaps the most famous health awareness initiative in our country, turns our communities pink each October. This effort offers us the opportunity to highlight the importance of breast cancer research and to showcase the excellent work our colleagues do every day to better understand, diagnose, treat, and prevent this disease.

While surgery remains a practical and effective option for breast cancer treatment for many women, UPMC has joined a multicenter trial that examines the elimination of surgery and outcomes of radiation and systemic therapy in patients with HER2-positive or triple negative breast cancer. Emilia Diego, MD, recently discussed this trial, along with Dr. Bernard Fisher’s work in de-escalating cancer care, in our new publication Surgical Oncology Rounds.

Leisha A. Emens, MD, PhD, presented overall survival results from the KATE2 study at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) 2019 World Congress in Barcelona last month. KATE2 examined the benefit of combining atezolizumab and T-DM1 compared to T-DM1 alone to treat HER2-positive locally advanced or metastatic breast cancer that had grown while being treated with trastuzumab and chemotherapy. While the study did not meet its primary end point in improving progression-free survival, Dr. Emens and her colleagues observed improvement among subjects with PD-L1 expression in their immune cells. Listen as Dr. Emens discusses the results on her breastcancer.org podcast.

Community outreach and engagement play a critical role in advancing our efforts both by bringing education and care to individuals in need and by presenting us with new questions about the environmental, socioeconomic, and other factors that influence the development of cancer in certain populations. Lyn Robertson, DPH, MSN, BSN, our associate director for health equity and community outreach & engagement, and Patty Andreas-Sanmartin, our interpreter liaison at the Birmingham Free Clinic, received 2019 Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Partner Recognition Awards from the Pennsylvania Commission for Women and Adagio Health at a breakfast at the Governor’s residence in Harrisburg on Friday, Oct. 4. Dr. Robertson also recently participated in a panel discussion at a town hall event in McKeesport as part of a new UPMC initiative that aims to address and ultimately reduce breast cancer disparities affecting African-American women.

Expanding Clinical Trial Engagement

Hillman recently welcomed two new clinical trial ambassadors, who will meet and greet newly diagnosed patients, serve as a point of contact for patients and families, and introduce clinical trials as a standard of care for those who are eligible. CeCe Williams is based at Hillman in Shadyside, and Yolanda Murphy is based at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital. Both ambassadors will also work with the clinical teams and develop trial-specific educational materials to help increase participation from more diverse populations. Please join me in welcoming our new colleagues to the Hillman team.

Furthering the effort to expand diverse participation in clinical trials, Dr. Lyn Robertson is leading a trial at the Birmingham Free Clinic titled “A Study to Identify Barriers Related to Cancer Screening Habits in Community Populations.” The study includes a brief survey regarding a variety of health behaviors and screening-related activities. For more information, please contact Dr. Robertson at robertsonlk@upmc.edu.

Meeting News

Please join me in congratulating the more than 20 Hillman faculty members who presented at the 2019 ASTRO Annual Meeting in Chicago last month. In addition to our presence on the agenda, two of our colleagues received recognition for their dedication to both ASTRO itself and the field of radiation oncology:

  • Sushil Beriwal, MD, was one of nine ASTRO Social Champions, providing extensive coverage of the event on his Twitter account, @sushilberiwal.
  • Joel Greenberger, MD, was one of 26 distinguished individuals to receive the ASTRO fellowship designation at this year’s event in recognition of his contributions to radiation oncology and the Society through research, education, patient care, and service to the field. Since its creation in 2006, only 353 of more than 10,000 ASTRO members worldwide have received the FASTRO designation.

Next month we will travel to the 34th Annual Meeting of the Society of Immunotherapy in Cancer (SITC), which takes place Nov. 6 – 10 in National Harbor, Md. Leisha A. Emens, MD, PhD, Jason Luke, MD, FACP, Dario A. Vignali, PhD, and Hassane Zarour, MD, are hosting a reception in honor of Olivera J. Finn, PhD, on Friday, Nov. 8 at the Westin National Harbor. Dr. Finn is the recipient of the 2019 Richard V. Smalley, MD, Memorial Lectureship, SITC’s most prestigious honor, in recognition for her impact on the field of immunology. Our hosts and I hope you can join us; RSVP here.

Building for the Future

It’s no secret that space is at a premium here at Hillman, and I’m pleased to report that our plans to expand continue to move forward. Faculty based in Shadyside have likely noticed extensive progress toward the renovation of the Reidbord Building at the corner of Centre and Morewood Avenues. Additionally, development is underway on the Riviera Building at the Pittsburgh Technology Center on Second Avenue in South Oakland, where we will also expand in the coming years. I look forward to keeping you up to date on our progress.


Robert L. Ferris, MD, PhD