Warriors in white

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Warriors in White Coats: Female Oncologists Lead Breast Cancer Care

Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute

Many women faced with a breast cancer diagnosis find a deep sense of connection when those caring for them are also female. However, despite the fact that slightly more than one-third of oncologists are female, the odds of a woman’s entire physician team being women is rare.

 

Picture the surprise when patients at Miami Cancer Institute in Plantation, part of Baptist Health, meet their exclusively female medical providers for the first time.

 

The all-female Plantation team

Enter Chief of Breast Medical Oncology Reshma Mahtani, D.O., breast medical oncologists Lauren Carcas, M.D., and Naomi Dempsey, M.D., breast surgeon Nadia Nocera, M.D., and radiation oncologist Ana Botero, M.D. Together, they work to support their patients with a unique level of understanding and empathy, and encourage their patients and each other as they balance work and life issues common among women.

 

Lauren Carcas, M.D., breast medical oncologist at Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute in Plantation

 

“An all-women breast cancer team is magic,” Dr. Carcas says. “I find that patients recognize that I am able to relate to their concerns regarding body image, sexuality, intimacy, juggling the demands of family and children and the desire to be around to raise those children in the years to come. I have found that as I have aged, the changes in my body are best understood by women who have gone through or are going through similar experiences. This provides the most comfort and reassurance and I can only imagine that those same feelings resonate for our patients.”

 

In addition to being in the minority based on their gender, some of the Plantation team are part of an even rarer group in the field of oncology ― the fewer than five percent of hematologists/oncologists who identify as Hispanic/Latinx based on a 2022 report by the American Society of Clinical Oncology. It’s an important statistic in South Florida, considering its large Hispanic population.

 

Breast cancer survival on the rise

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is the most common cancer and the second-leading cause of cancer death in women in the U.S., with nearly 300,000 new cases expected to be diagnosed in 2023. Although breast cancer is on the rise, thanks to new treatments and early detection, death rates are dropping.

 

Nadia Nocera, M.D., breast surgeon at Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute in Plantation

 

“There is incredible hope and optimism for the future of the treatment of breast cancer, and patients will continue to benefit immensely,” Dr. Nocera says. “Some diseases do not see a change in their treatment for decades. With breast cancer, you can go back just five to 10 years and see immense change and progress, from how surgery is done to the type of radiation given to the medical treatments available.”

 

Clinical trials change standards of care

The doctors are making significant contributions to advances in breast cancer treatment. Most exciting, Dr. Mahtani says, are the breast cancer clinical trials available through Miami Cancer Institute. “These have the potential to change how breast cancer is treated going forward,” she says. “These include studies with novel targeted treatments that provide a personalized approach to the treatment of breast cancer, both in the early stage and metastatic setting.”

 

Dr. Mahtani

Reshma Mahtani, D.O.chief of breast medical oncology at Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute in Plantation

 

Among the trials, which are designed to change the standard of care in curative therapy in breast cancer and better individualize treatment, are:

 

·       The ATEMPT 2.0 trial ― Led by site investigator Dr. Mahtani, ATEMPT 2.0 is a phase 2 clinical trial for patients with stage 1 HER2-positive breast cancer who have already undergone surgery to remove their tumor. A multi-institutional study in collaboration with Dana Farber, the trial will provide important information on the effectiveness and toxicities of a shorter course of targeted treatments for early stage HER2-positive disease.

 

·       The EMBER4 trial ― Led by site investigator Dr. Dempsey, EMBER4 is a phase 3 trial for patients with high risk early-stage estrogen receptor positive, HER2-negative breast cancer who have received two to five years of endocrine therapy. The main purpose of the study is to measure how well a novel endocrine therapy works compared to standard endocrine therapy.

 

The Plantation location, at 1228 South Pine Island Rd. just north of I-595, is part of the Baptist Health wellness and medical complex that offers a full range of integrated health services. Cancer care includes a large infusion suite and on-site infusion pharmacy, comprehensive diagnostic imaging and an ambulatory surgery center, along with support services such as nutrition counseling, genetic testing and high-risk screening. In February, it received full accreditation by the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) Accreditation Program for Excellence, or APExTM. It is one of just 36 accredited programs in the U.S. that have met ASTRO safety and excellence standards.

 

Finding the right physician

The doctors emphasize that finding the right physician is an important part of the breast cancer journey. “The first step in patient empowerment is choosing the right physician,” Dr. Dempsey says. “There needs to be trust and good communication. If a patient doesn’t feel that connection with their physician, it is their right and responsibility to find the person who will be the right fit for them.”

 

Naomi Dempsey, M.D., breast medical oncologist at Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute in Plantation

 

Says Dr. Mahtani, “I view the fact that we are all female as a huge asset. While there are many excellent male physicians, sometimes breast cancer patients feel more comfortable with a woman. Many of these patients are faced with having to make really tough decisions that can impact their body image, sexual function and relationships. I suspect many of our patients are comforted knowing that our team cannot only help inform treatment decisions but can also relate as mothers and wives.”

 

And for women considering a career in medicine, particularly oncology, the doctors recommend a strong support system, both personal and professional.

 

“There was not one female surgeon in my hospital until I was training for four years. It was a boys’ club,” Dr. Nocera recalls. “I have two female mentors I hold in high regard. Both of these women have pushed through boundaries and smashed glass ceilings to achieve career goals while simultaneously being great mothers to their children. They have guided me and inspired me to push through difficult times, be better than I was yesterday and to achieve my goals.”

 

The camaraderie that exists among the breast cancer team members in Plantation is special, Dr. Carcas says. “We lean in and cover for each other when all of the unexpected life events surprise us. I could not be more proud of the team we have established here in Plantation.”

 

Ana Botero, M.D., radiation oncologist at Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute in Plantation

 

Visit BaptistHealth.net/Mammogram to schedule your screening mammogram. You can also schedule your screening mammogram through PineApp.

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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