Voices of Impact – Dr. Hyman Muss

Established by Susan G. Komen for the Cure® in 1992, the Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction is a marquee award that honors leading scientists for their significant achievements and contributions in basic and translational science and clinical practice that have advanced the fight to save lives and realize our vision of a world without breast cancer.  This year’s awardees are Dr. Hyman Muss, an American clinician-scientist and Prof. Yosef Yarden, an Israeli researcher whose work has led to more personalized treatments for breast cancer. Dr. Muss and Prof. Yarden received their awards at the 2012 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium on December 5, 2012.

Voices of Impact - Dr. Hyman MussDr. Hyman B. Muss, MD, Chapel Hill, NC – Clinician-Scientist
Professor of Medicine and Director, Geriatric Oncology Program, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center; Co-chair, Alliance CALGB Committee on Cancer in the Elderly

“Many are surprised to learn that the average age of women diagnosed with breast cancer is 61. It is far more prevalent in 70-year-old women than in 40-year-old women.”

“It is essential that we give these patients the medical treatments that are right for them, as we address the special issues of aging patients.”

 

My lifelong interest in breast cancer treatment for older women began 30 years ago when I was working as a medical oncologist in breast cancer at Wake Forest University. The chief of medicine was William Hazzard, one of the great gerontologists, and he asked me in the early 1980s to work on a project with one of the medical residents involving metastatic breast cancer in older women.

We found then that the older women with metastatic breast cancer had similar outcomes as younger women, suggesting that older women should not be excluded from clinical trials based on age alone. This was novel for the time. Our findings were published by the Journal of the American Medical Association and the next thing I knew, people from around the country were asking me about older people and breast cancer.  I got more interested, I learned more, I devoted myself to this field, and I’ve never looked back.

One of the great ironies of cancer care is that we as a society tend to think of cancer as a disease in younger people. Many are surprised to learn that the average age of women diagnosed with breast cancer is 61. It is far more prevalent in 70-year-old women than in 40-year-old women. Yet, fewer older people are offered the option to participate in clinical trials, and many are not offered the state-of-the-art treatment that may be offered to younger women.

We know that some of these issues are the result of age bias, and so we’ve been working very hard to educate oncologists and the community about cancer treatment in older people.  Komen has been a great supporter of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and through ASCO, we’ve begun education modules about cancer treatment in older patients. It is essential that we give these patients the medical treatments that are right for them, as we address the special issues of aging patients.

As part of this work, we’re also educating Fellows on the basic principles of geriatrics, and trying to educate about the importance of moving older cancer patients into clinical trials so that we can understand and better treat people in this age group. At the same time, we’re working very hard on molecular models of aging, that is, changes that occur as we age that might make us less resilient and able to tolerate treatments.

In all these ways, we’re working to move to a personalized medicine model that ensures the highest and best treatments for the population most vulnerable to cancer: older patients.

Those of us who have worked in geriatric oncology truly love what we do. We have to, because it’s not as popular as other medical specialties, and I truly worry about a shortage of doctors able to care for a growing group of seniors in our country.

I’m honored to be chosen for the Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction, but the truth is, I’ve been very fortunate to do work that I love. In my case, it’s made better by a wonderful family and my 42-year marriage to the love of my life, Loretta, who as a retired nurse has helped establish a patient and family advisory board for cancer patients at the University of North Carolina Cancer Hospital.

It’s a great life, and my thanks to Komen for recognizing the special work of all people working to end cancer, forever.

 

About the author

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Susan G. Komen has written 258 articles for Susan G. Komen® | Blog

Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Komen is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure®, we have invested more than $1.9 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.