• Q&A with Monica Morrow, M.D., FACS, Winner of the 2016 Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Clinical Research

    Research

     

    Established by Komen in 1992, the Brinker Awards for Scientific Distinction recognize the efforts of pioneers in two critically important areas of the fight to end breast cancer: Clinical Research and Basic Science. This year’s winners join the ranks of an esteemed group of scientists who have been recognized for advancing breast cancer research and medicine with the Brinker Awards – the highest scientific honor awarded by Susan G. Komen, the world’s leading breast cancer organization. 

    We recently spoke with Dr. Monica Morrow, winner of the 2016 Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Clinical Research, about her career in breast cancer research.

    Monica Morrow, M.D., FACS, winner of the 2016 Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Clinical Research

    1. How could your research help individuals facing breast cancer today and in years to come?

    Women believe that by choosing bigger surgery they are doing everything they can to be safe and minimize the risk of breast cancer recurring. While this is understandable, it is not supported by evidence, and bigger surgery can lead to more surgical complications, a greater risk for long-term side effects, and delay the start of chemotherapy. Hopefully, this research will help women avoid large surgery when it is not of benefit. Moving forward, it can serve as a model to for the need to   evaluate all the components of existing treatments (surgery, radiation, drug therapies) as improvements in one kind of treatment occur.   

    2. What made you decide to focus your research on the idea that more is not necessarily better?

    The cancers that we see today are smaller, with a lower risk of nodal metastases than those seen 20–30 years ago when the majority of the “rules” we use for surgery and radiotherapy were developed. Drug therapy has improved dramatically, raising the possibility that we could decrease the extent of surgery and still obtain the same excellent outcomes. This represents true multidisciplinary treatment which has always been an interest of mine.   

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    Dr. Monica Morrow

    "Drug therapy has improved dramatically, raising the possibility that we could decrease the extent of surgery and still obtain the same excellent outcomes."

    3. What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in your career?

    Both doctors and patients are very accepting of adding more therapy. They are much more skeptical of studies showing that doing less is safe. Getting people to understand that there is an underlying biological reason why doing less in both the breast and the lymph nodes is safe was sometimes a challenge.

    4. What is, in your opinion, the most recent progress in breast cancer research that patients should be aware of?

    Patients should be aware that improvements in drug therapy, particularly targeted therapies, have reduced the risk of cancer recurrence after lumpectomy as well as the risk of developing new cancer in the opposite breast for the majority of women. The risk of cancer recurring in the area of the surgery after lumpectomy and radiation is the same for most women and few will develop a new cancer in the opposite breast. This means that mastectomy of both breasts is not necessary and is no “safer” than lumpectomy and radiotherapy.   

    5. What would you predict will be the next big breakthrough for breast cancer patients?

    More-personalized use of radiation that is better targeted to risk.  

    6. What does receiving the Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Clinical Research mean to you?

    Receiving the Brinker Award is a great honor. So much of the focus in breast cancer research is on drug development that it is important for younger clinical researchers to realize that there are important questions to be addressed in local therapy as well. Susan G. Komen has played such an important role in breast cancer funding and education about breast cancer that this award is a real validation of the importance of this work to women, and I am both humbled and extremely grateful.   

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