The new director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Dr. Monica Bertagnolli announced the news Wednesday, saying the breast cancer was diagnosed early and her prognosis was good, while also detailing plans to keep leading the agency, with some leave and thanks to the support of other NCI leaders.
Bertagnolli was open about her case, saying her cancer is hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer and appears to be confined to the breast. She expects to have surgery and possibly other treatment.
“As is the case for many people after a cancer diagnosis, I'm in a waiting period right now and there are things we don't know. But thanks to research funded by NCI, answers about the treatment that's best for me will come in time,” Bertagnolli said in her statement.
She has long worked in cancer care. Before starting the NCI job on Oct. 3, she was a surgical oncologist for many years at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. She was a professor of surgery in the field of surgical oncology at Harvard Medical School.
She has served on the boards of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the American Cancer Society and the Prevent Cancer Foundation. She was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2021.
In the course of her career, Bertagnolli has worked to advance understanding of the gene mutation that promotes gastrointestinal cancer development, as well as the impact of inflammation on cancer growth.
Bertagnolli was raised on a ranch in southwestern Wyoming, the daughter or first-generation Italian and French Basque immigrants.
The director will receive her cancer care where she previously worked, at Brigham and Women's and Dana-Farber. She has also enrolled in a clinical trial focused on diagnosis.
“I'm pleased that my experience will contribute to the ever-expanding knowledge base about cancer and inform advances in care. I am grateful that I had access to effective screening and caught this early,” Bertagnolli said.
Bertagnolli noted that even doctors go through the patient experience in life.
“It's one thing to know about cancer as a physician, but it is another to experience it firsthand as a patient as well. To anyone with cancer today: I am truly in this together with you,” Bertagnolli said.
The American Cancer Society has more on the role of hormone receptors in breast cancer.
SOURCE: U.S. National Cancer Institute, news release, Dec. 14, 2022