The University of Chicago Medicine honors breast cancer specialist Laura Esserman

Michelle M. Le Beau, PhD, and Laura Esserman, MD, MBA

Michelle M. Le Beau, PhD, director of the UChicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center (left), presents Laura Esserman, MD, MBA, professor of radiology and surgery at UCSF Helen Diller Comprehensive Cancer Center, with the 2019 Simon M. Shubitz Prize. Esserman accepted the honor and delivered a lecture at UChicago on Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. Photo credit: John Kilkus

Breast cancer specialist Laura Esserman, MD, MBA, has been honored for excellence in the field of cancer research with an award from the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The 2019 Simon M. Shubitz Prize for Excellence in Cancer Research is presented annually to a physician or scientist who has made significant contributions to the study of cancer. It was established in 1978 by Simon M. Shubitz, MD, a distinguished alumnus of the University of Chicago known for his dedication as a physician and his efforts as a humanitarian and philanthropist.

Esserman, an internationally recognized leader in the field of breast cancer care and research, received the award and delivered a lecture, "Transformation in Trials and Care to Accelerate Learning in Medicine," on Oct. 14, 2019, at the University of Chicago.

“I am deeply honored to receive the prestigious Shubitz Cancer Prize and Lectureship,” Esserman said. “My work is dedicated to accelerating the development of targeted, effective prevention and treatment options because patients don’t have 10 years to wait for the right treatment options.”

Esserman is a Professor of Surgery and Radiology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Director of the UCSF Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center.

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. Esserman is well known as a thought leader in cancer screening and 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.

Athena launched the Women Informed to Screen Depending On Measure of risk, or “WISDOM,” study, which tests a personalized approach to breast cancer screening in 100,000 women.

“I’ve always imagined that there could be a better way to learn in the course of care and create science-based, patient-centered trials,” she said. “I am thrilled to be able to work on finding targeted and less toxic approaches to screening, prevention and treatment.”

Last year, UChicago Medicine became the first expansion partner site in the Midwest to recruit participants to the WISDOM study. The Chicago effort is being led by breast cancer expert Olufunmilayo Olopade, MD and Deepa Sheth, MD.

Over her impressive career, Dr. Esserman has worked tirelessly to revolutionize breast cancer screening and treatment and continues to lead the field forward in innovative ways.

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 cancers.

She said, “I know there is a future where breast cancer is no longer a dreaded diagnosis, a future when the person sitting across from me smiles and says, ‘Well, now, I like all of those treatment options!’”

In 2016, TIME Magazine named Esserman as one of 100 Most Influential People. She is a fellow of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the world’s largest professional society for oncologists, and has published more than 300 articles in peer-reviewed journals.

“We are excited to bestow this honor upon such a distinguished and accomplished breast cancer researcher,” said Michelle M. Le Beau, PhD, director of the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Over her impressive career, Dr. Esserman has worked tirelessly to revolutionize breast cancer screening and treatment and continues to lead the field forward in innovative ways.”

Esserman earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard University and completed her medical degree at Stanford University School of Medicine. She completed her surgery residency and oncology fellowship at Stanford University Medical Center. After her training, she joined the faculty at Stanford and received a Hartford fellowship to attend Stanford Business School where she received her MBA degree in 1993. She then joined the faculty at UCSF.

Previous recipients of the Shubitz Prize include Peter Nowell, co-discoverer of the Philadelphia Chromosome; Judah Folkman, MD, a pioneer in angiogenesis; Harold E. Varmus, MD, viral oncologist and winner of a Nobel Prize for discovering retroviral oncogenes; and Mary-Claire King, MD, a geneticist who discovered the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes linked to inherited breast cancer.

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A longstanding debate has stymied the medical community about when and how often women should be screened for breast cancer. The WISDOM study will assess whether personalized screening is as safe, effective and accepted compared to annual screening.

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