In 2002, Queens Hospital opened a state-of-the-art, 261-bed facility that includes the Queens Cancer Center, the first comprehensive cancer treatment center in the borough. With 18,000 outpatient visits each year and a multicultural patient population that speaks more than 100 languages, the Center has a unique perspective to cancer care. In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Queens Cancer Center Founding Director Dr. Margaret Kemeny talks about her experiences and innovative practices that are helping to fight this disease.
What particular challenges do you face and what solutions have you found?
In Queens, we are seeing too many people who have advanced rates of cancer, because they don't get preventative tests for early detection. The most common cancers we see are cancers of the breast, colon, lung and cancer. The earlier we detect a cancer the better chance of curing it or at least minimizing its effects. Although many of the people we see are highly educated, their literacy in English is low.
We have solved some of the language problem through the use of a telephone service that translates over 150 languages in real time, while we are speaking to the patient. I can see the facial responses my patients have to what I say. And patients often prefer it, since they have more privacy than when a translator is in the room.
What are some of your latest developments in breast cancer treatment and prevention?
We are doing extensive research in cancer prevention, early detection, new drugs and new techniques to treat cancer. For example, we enrolled 2,000 women in the national breast cancer trial known as STAR - the Study of Tamoxifen and Raloxifene for the Prevention of Breast Cancer in Postmenopausal Women. The study showed that Raloxifene works as well as Tamoxifen in reducing breast cancer risk for postmenopausal women, without many of the serious side effects. Both drugs reduced the risk of developing invasive breast cancer by about 50 percent.
Can you talk about a recent innovation that has made a big difference for women with breast cancer?
Through the use of MammoSite Targeted Radiation Therapy, we have been able to shorten the amount of time that women receive radiation after they have had a lumpectomy (partial removal of the breast). Women can now be treated for only five days to reduce their risk of recurrence of cancer, instead of receiving 30 treatments over six weeks. This obviously makes a huge difference in their quality of life.
What advances do you look forward to in the next ten years that will impact how we treat breast cancer?
Short of a cure, I hope we will have better and less invasive screening tests that will help us find cancers earlier, treatments that are easier to tolerate and better medications that extend life and improve quality of life.
What are some of the still popular myths about breast cancer?
One is that, if you have an operation for breast cancer, the cancer will spread to the rest the body. This is not true and very dangerous since it could cause women to avoid needed surgery that could save their lives. Another myth is that if breast cancer does not run in your family you will not get it. In fact, about 80% of women who get breast cancer have no known family history of the disease.
What is your proudest moment since you've been at the Queens Cancer Center?
I'm proud that we're able to offer state-of-the-art cancer treatment to the people of Queens that is as good as any place in the world. One of our patients came from a country in South America where she could not receive treatment. She would not have survived if she had not come to us. Today, she is totally cancer free.
I believe that everyone should have access to the best treatments possible regardless of their insurance or financial situation. That is why I'm here and that's why I come to work every day.
Dr. Kemeny is a co-founder and past president of the Association of Women Surgeons. She received her BA degree in biochemistry at Harvard College and her medical degree at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons.