Komen Educational Series “Night of Hope” to Feature Komen Scholar Ann Partridge
Komen Scholar Ann Partridge, MD, MPH, says while breast cancer interested her from a medical perspective as a clinician and scientist, the biggest influence in pursuing her current career were two special relationships.
Early in her fellowship, she discovered Harvard breast cancer oncologist and researcher Dr. Eric Winer, a mentor she wanted to emulate professionally and personally. His leadership style, how he worked with a team and how he cared for his patients was an example she really valued. Then, about a year later, it was her best friend, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 30 while Partridge was 29, who helped her appreciate the unique toll breast cancer takes on young women.
Although the median age at breast cancer diagnosis is approximately 65, more than 14,000 women 40 years of age or younger are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the United States. Because women in this younger age group represent a minority of the women diagnosed with breast cancer, far less is known about breast cancer in younger women than older women. Evidence shows that young age is an independent risk factor for disease recurrence and death. It is controversial whether the poorer prognosis is a reflection of delays in diagnosis or differences in biology, but accumulating evidence indicates that biologic differences may play an important role.
Young women also face unique psychosocial stressors.
“Young women with breast cancer deal with even more psychologically and socially,” Partridge said. “How you date with no breast, how you deal with getting dressed, how you cope with the threat to your life and to your fertility all are some of their critical quality of life issues. I gained such valuable perspective as a provider because this was what my best friend was dealing with,” Partridge said.
“Twenty years ago, when I started out, young breast cancer patients were a relatively underserved population,” she said. “Today more attention is focused on young patients, and other researchers want to get involved to help.”
Today Partridge is Vice Chair of Medical Oncology and founder and director of the Program for Young Women with Breast Cancer at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA. She is also a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and has a particular interest in the psychosocial, behavioral and communication issues in breast cancer care and treatment.
Partridge said there are great strides being made in all types of breast cancer research. New drugs, new therapies, and better understanding of who will respond best to what type of treatment all give her hope. But, she said, there is a long way to go in treating those with advanced-stage disease and implementing new discoveries among diverse populations who can’t access some of the supportive care and latest advances.
“Breakthroughs need to be for all,” she said.
How young is young for developing breast cancer? Partridge’s youngest patient in her clinic was 17, but she’s heard of patients as young as 13 developing breast cancer.
Her advice to any patient regardless of age is to pay attention to your body and any new changes or problems that arise, and get checked. Often in young women, the first step isn’t a mammogram but an ultrasound and close follow-up.
“The tragedies arise when the cancer is too far spread,” she said. “It’s when a physician assumes that it’s nothing because the woman is too young to develop breast cancer and therefore doesn’t do a workup and/or watch the patient carefully for changes.”
Partridge says she is deeply appreciative that Komen invests in people doing significant work in the most critical areas of need and in work that pushes the boundaries other funding mechanisms deem too risky.
“Komen funding is allowing us to go more deeply into the study of young women than ever before,” she said. “An example is our Young Women’s Breast Cancer Study, a cohort of 1,300 women that has been sustained and grown through Komen grants, allowing patient follow-up to extend beyond the original 10 years to 20.”
Being a Komen Scholar not only provides a respected credential in the general research community, it also allows her access to the rest of the Scholar scientific team.
“I really enjoy all aspects of being part of the Scholar team, which comprises top breast cancer researchers from around the world,” she said. “The team addresses all issues, from the lab to care delivery. The teamwork and brainstorming provide strategy and comradery.”
What motivates Partridge most, however, is what happens in clinic with patients. “My patients are awe-inspiring. I want to do right by them, do my best to ease their suffering. I’m privileged to be part of their lives. The best part of my job, in fact, is making a difference in moving things in the right direction.”
Partridge will present her research on the care and treatment of young women with breast cancer at Komen Greater Fort Worth’s Komen Scholar Educational Series: “A Night of Hope” on Thursday, March 5, 2020, at 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Moncrief Cancer Institute, 400 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth. The event will include a cocktail reception before the presentation.