Ravdin ready to raise the bar
Like most things worth doing well, it took time to build a comprehensive clinic in San Antonio dedicated to breast health.
What began as the vision of local health care and community leaders decades ago resulted in the Comprehensive Breast Health Clinic at the UT Health Science Center’s Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC). The physical structure was completed in 2006, offering patients diagnosis, treatment and a wide range of services focused on improving quality of life – all under one roof. Creating an exceptional team of breast care specialists took four more years.
At a clinic open house this past spring, CTRC Executive Director Ian M. Thompson Jr., M.D., formally announced the recruitment of Peter Ravdin, M.D., Ph.D., as the director of the Breast Health Clinic.
“We knew we needed someone renowned in both research and clinical care to lead by example and to take our program to the next level because that is what our patients deserve,” Dr. Thompson said. “We found that expertise in Dr. Ravdin.”
In March 2010, Dr. Ravdin rejoined the Health Science Center faculty after eight years of working independently and most notably on developing “Adjuvant!,” a widely used computer tool that estimates benefits and risks of chemotherapy after breast cancer surgery. In April Dr. Ravdin accepted the American Society of Breast Diseases 2010 “Pathfinder” award that celebrates the innovators who have combined biological intuition, clinical and translational research, and clinical practice with an interdisciplinary understanding to advance the fight against breast disease and breast cancer.
Dr. Ravdin served on the Health Science Center faculty from 1987 until 2002, wearing a number of hats that prepared him for his new role. He directed major clinical trials, including one leading to government approval of the commonly used breast cancer drug Taxotere. He served as an executive officer of the Southwest Oncology Group, one of the largest National Cancer Institute-funded cancer clinical trial cooperative groups in the U.S. with an operations office based in San Antonio, and was the CTRC’s chief of staff. Then, as now, Dr. Ravdin was a member of the executive committee of the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, the world’s largest annual scientific meeting devoted to breast cancer research and treatment. In 2009, the symposium drew about 8,500 participants from 93 countries.
“The CTRC is a superb environment to deliver and advance the best and most state-of-the-art cancer care,” Dr. Ravdin said. “Our technically excellent and compassionate physicians practice in all breast cancer care specialties. I’m proud to be back at one the country’s top programs for developing new treatments, and to work with world-class scientists whose research and talent will benefit the future of cancer prevention and treatment.”
By the time 45-year-old Sandra Flores arrived at the CTRC May 4, she knew she had breast cancer. A few months earlier, she’d discovered a painful lump in her left breast. A mammogram and biopsy confirmed the diagnosis. A stay-at-home mother of two children, ages 7 and 16, Flores worked part time managing office duties for her husband’s construction company. She had no health insurance. Representatives from a community assistance program suggested she might qualify for financial assistance through CareLink at the University Health System. CareLink’s sliding-scale fee system calculated her payments based on her family’s income. Her primary care physician through CareLink referred her to the CTRC and Dr. Ravdin.
“Once I got to the CTRC, things fell into place very quickly,” Flores recalls. “Dr. Ravdin scheduled a lumpectomy for the following Tuesday. The physicians told me I would likely need radiation after the surgery. I saw three doctors in one day and didn’t have to leave the building. I felt 1,000 percent better.”
Flores’ lumpectomy, performed at University Hospital May 11, left her with a “small empty space” in her breast. Fortunately, Flores’ cancer, an aggressive type called invasive ductal carcinoma, was discovered at Stage 2 of 4 and had not spread to her lymph nodes. Two days later, all members of the CTRC team contributing to Flores’ care discussed the results of her surgery and pathology reports at their weekly case conference. They recommended that she follow the surgery with chemotherapy and then radiation. The next week, Dr. Ravdin sat down with Flores and used a computer program he developed called “Adjuvant!” to discuss the benefits and risks of Flores’ various treatment options.
“I learned that without chemotherapy, there was a 35 percent chance that the cancer would return,” Flores said. “With chemo, there was a 17 percent chance. It was sobering to hear the odds. I had a bad night. But you have to know where you are in order to know what you need to do.”
Flores added, “For me, to face this obstacle, I know I’m in the best place I can be here at the CTRC.”