During the past 30 years, most women in the United States have been recommended to have a mammogram every year. We know that mammograms are vital for breast cancer detection, but we still don’t know how often we need them.

Over those same 30 years we have learned so much about the biology of the breast. We now know that women have different levels of risk for breast cancer, and that it is not simply one disease.  Despite these advances, breast cancer remains the second leading cause of cancer death for women in the US. If we can learn more about who gets breast cancer, why they get it, and what type they get, we can reduce women’s risk of getting it. That’s why I founded the WISDOM Study – Women Informed to Screen Depending OMeasures of risk.

The groundbreaking WISDOM Study is testing a personalized approach to screening compared to annual mammograms.  Please join us and make medical history. Use the WISDOM of your body to help yourself, us, and generations of women to come.

 – Dr. Laura Esserman

EDINBURG, Texas – Dr. Laura Esserman, M.D., M.B.A is an internationally renowned surgeon and breast cancer oncology specialist practicing at the UCSF Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center where she has also held the position of Director since 1996. She co-leads the Breast Oncology Program, the largest of the UCSF Helen Diller Comprehensive Cancer Center’s multidisciplinary programs. 

Dr. Laura Esserman

On Wednesday, Dr. Esserman gave presentations to the administration and healthcare staff of DHR Health, sharing her expertise on breast cancer treatment, research, and early detection. She was also a special guest at DHR’s latest Talk With the Docs media session at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance. The discussion focused on breast cancer awareness. 

Among the speakers at the event was Dr. Lisa Chapa, a McAllen native, and a Board-Certified General Surgeon at DHR Health General Surgery Institute who serves as the Director of the Breast Center of Excellence at DHR Health. 

Another speaker was Dr. Mauricio De La Garza, a native of Monterrey, Mexico who is a specialty-trained, board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon and Chief of the DHR Health Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Institute.

Another speaker was Dr. Michelle Cordoba Kissee, who is board certified in internal medicine, with specialty certification in endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism. Cordoba Kissee is a breast cancer survivor who was treated at the DHR Health Breast Center of Excellence .

The moderator was Marcy Martinez, director of public relations and corporate Communications for DHR Health. 

Here is an audio file of the event:

Here are the remarks of Dr. Laura Esserman at the Talk With the Docs event:

Well, you have a fabulous center and what makes a fabulous center are the people who are here. A center is only as good as the people who lead it and the people who really care about making things better tomorrow than they are today. 

And that is the entire purpose of research. Research isn’t something that you do on the side. It is actually tomorrow’s treatments today. The whole reason you want to have a center that is involved in pushing the envelope is because… all of us… I have been taking care of woman’s breast cancer for over 30 years. And certainly I don’t want to leave the field doing the same thing I did 30 years ago. I don’t want to be doing the same thing I am doing today. 

I hope that five years from now, I can say, if you come in with a very high risk breast cancer I will be able to pinpoint the type of therapy, it will be less toxic and far more effective and you won’t have to worry about dying from it. That to me would be an amazing success. And we have a trial that is called the I-SPY trial that is going to help us get there. And I am so excited to see how enthusiastic the team here is about participating and that we have the chance to bring these really cool new approaches that are hopefully more targeted and less toxic, better, faster and more targeted and more personalized and give every patient that chance to get their best outcome. 

Another really important opportunity to collaborate is been around the WISDOM Center. This is about trying to do what you heard about, about getting comprehensive testing but trying to think about, what is the right way to do screening and early detection. Should everybody get the same thing? Or, since breast cancer is many different diseases and everybody is different and they have different risk factors, maybe we should be doing personalized screening and prevention. Very much like what you just heard about, by tailoring it to that person. So, participating in a big national effort to try and think about advancing and moving the field forward.

A lot of people argue about screening. Is it good, is it bad, when do you start, when do you stop. Instead of arguing about things, let’s just make it better. Let’s figure out how to do more for the people that need it, less for the people that don’t and be more targeted and tailored and really put prevention on the map. And, as you said, we cannot do that without starting with comprehensive risk assessment. One of the things that we can bring to that risk assessment is… the addition in the Wisdom Study… we can not only look at breast density and include that but we can also look at the genetics. Not just these kind of rare mutations that people can have, which, if you have it, it is important to know about it, because if you know about it ahead of time, neurologist powered, there is something you can do about it, either through high risk screening or through preventative surgery or hopefully in the next few years through some of these ew medications called Park Inhibitors that might be actually be able to prevent that mutation carriers. So, the more we know, the better we are going to do. The only way to do better is to know better. And so by participating in these trials we can start to that figure out. 

But also, everyone inherits a bunch of other genes, many genes, polygenetic risk. That can tell you if you are higher risk or lower risk. And in the future, the near future, I think it will help us say what kind of cancer you are more likely to get. So, we know what we can do to reduce that risk. That is the future. Because we really want to mean that early detection can save lives but actually, I would say, that better risk assessment and more targeted prevention is what will save lives. And that is what we are talking about. The Wisdom Study. And I am so excited to hear that team here wants to bring this to the Rio Grande Valley. We want to make sure that all people, all populations, all colors, all races, all ethnicities, everyone is participating because the more we learn and the more we know, the better every woman will be. 

Together, if everyone in the community participates in these efforts the future really, indeed, will be bright. And it will be better for our sisters, our daughters and ourself. So, welcome to all of you into the WISDOM Study and to the community, I hope everyone will spread the word and that this center will actually help us really bring a lot of the population here into the study. It is for women who have never had cancer between 40 and 74. Every woman is supposed to be screening for about 35 years of their life. Why not take the next five years, screen with us. It is very easy, it only requires filling out a survey once a year and really feeling like you really want to be part of the future that is going to make breast health much better in the future. 

So, again, thanks for having me out here it has been a pleasure to meet everyone. And I am so impressed with the amazing and passionate and dedicated team because that is what it takes to give great care and to make people’s lives better. 

Editor’s Note: Vanguard Academy students Freddy Sandoval and Lee Perez assisted with this news story and podcast.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story and podcast features, from left to right, Dr. Sohail Rao, Dr. Mauricio De La Garza, Dr. Laura Esserman, Dr. Dr. Michelle Cordoba Kissee, and Dr. Dr. Lisa Chapa. (Photo: RGG/Lee Perez)

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