Leveraging Personalized Medicine for Breast Cancer Prevention and Treatment with Laura Esserman, MD

Leveraging Personalized Medicine for Breast Cancer Prevention and Treatment with Laura Esserman, MD


Breast cancer is preventable and yet, many women all over the world still get it. The question now is, how can you prevent and reduce your risks of developing breast cancer? Laura Esserman, MD is determined to change things through the WISDOM (Women Informed to Screen Depending on Measures of Risk) study. 

Laura Esserman, MD is a Professor of Surgery and Radiology at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), and she is also the Director of the UCSF Breast Care Clinic. Her work in breast cancer spans the spectrum from basic science to public policy issues and the impact of both on the delivery of clinical care. 

Dr. Esserman is recognized as a thought leader in cancer screening and overdiagnosis, as well as innovative clinical trial design. She led the creation of the University of California-wide Athena Breast Health Network, a learning system designed to integrate clinical care and research as it follows 150,000 women from screening through treatment and outcomes. 

The Athena Network launched the PCORI-funded WISDOM (Women Informed to Screen Depending on Measures of Risk) study, which tests a personalized approach to breast cancer screening in 100,000 women. Dr. Esserman is also a leader of the innovative I-SPY trial model designed to accelerate the identification and approval of effective new agents for women with high-risk breast cancer.

Dr. Esserman earned her MD and MBA from Stanford University, and her Bachelor’s in the History of Science from Harvard University.

What You’ll Hear On This Episode of When Science Speaks

  • Laura Esserman, MD talks about her work in personalized medicine 
  • Why personalized medicine is crucial for breast cancer treatment
  • What is the WISDOM (Women Informed to Screen Depending on Measures of Risk) study and what does it hope to accomplish?
  • Dr. Esserman talks about the current protocol for mammograms and why the approach needs to change
  • The challenges that the WISDOM study has faced so far
  • How Dr. Esserman and her team have been communicating the value of the WISDOM trial and how they encourage women to enroll in the study
  • What are the implications of personalized medicine from the patient, government, and public health standpoint?
  • The lessons that Dr. Esserman has learned in the process of putting together a coalition for successful trials

Connect with Laura Esserman, MD

The importance of personalized medicine

Laura Esserman, MD has built her career around trying to deliver optimal care to everyone, and this includes designing care based on biology, patient preference, and clinical performance. Personalized care revolves around the recognition of the different risk factors for every person and acknowledging the fact that the treatment procedure for diseases varies from person to person. It allows patients to get the care they need based on their own profile, reducing the risks of overtreatment. She is particularly interested in diagnosing and identifying the various risk levels of breast cancer in diagnosed patients, thereby giving them the help they need to feel better and get better.

This is the reason why Dr. Esserman’s work with the WISDOM study is focused on how to right-size breast cancer treatment. She says that there is a wealth of study around breast cancer and treatment options for those who need it and being able to zero-in on the right treatment plan for a patient risk level is crucial to optimal and efficient health care.

The WISDOM (Women Informed to Screen Depending on Measures of Risk) study and its impact on breast cancer diagnosis and treatment

The screening process for breast cancer has pretty much remained the same over the past four decades. Initially, breast cancer was considered a single disease and it was noticed by doctors that late diagnosis often had worse outcomes than those who were diagnosed early. Though screening has been helpful, it hasn’t had the kind of impact that medical professionals were hoping for which is why Dr. Esserman is intent on making the process for diagnosis and treatment better.

The PCORI-funded WISDOM study intends to address this issue and it has zeroed-in on two things: proper screening of how malignant or how advanced the cancer is, and determining which type of breast cancer the patient has. This shifts the idea of treatment from being a uniform approach to a more personalized treatment plan. By retrofitting the process of diagnosis and treatment, WISDOM is able to properly address the needs of women with breast cancer.

Learn more about Laura Esserman, MD and the WISDOM study on this episode of When Science Speaks. 

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