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Taking fear out of breast cancer

October 05, 2010
by Kathy Katella

Anees B. Chagpar, MD, looks at breast cancer as a “speed bump.” It may be one of life’s bigger speed bumps, and there are still difficult cases, but it doesn’t always warrant the terrible fear of the disease and dread women have for mammograms, says the new director of the Yale Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital.

“We’re already starting to look at breast cancer as a chronic disease that we can control with treatment and careful follow-up,” she says. “It’s very scary when a woman is diagnosed, but the survival rate for stage 1 breast cancer is 98.3 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. That’s phenomenal. We’re doing better in all stages because of advances in treatment and because we are catching breast cancer early.”

Collaboration, personalized care

Chagpar, a practicing breast surgeon with a national reputation, joined Yale Medical Group in September and quickly settled into her leadership role at the Breast Center, which moved from the Yale Physicians’ Building into a new suite in Smilow earlier this year.

Dressed in a smart red suit, leaning slightly forward across her desk, smiling and brimming with energy, she inspires confidence as she discusses her plans. She is collaborating with pathologists and other specialists to continue the emphasis on personalized care for breast patients; pursuing an array of research interests; and exploring the introduction of new complementary therapies such as mindfulness training.

She has already started building bridges with the Susan G. Komen For The Cure Connecticut Affiliate and the Breast Center Alliance, a funding and outreach organization, and participated at local events such as BJ’s Pink Picnic to mark October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

A distinguished resume

Born in Canada, Chagpar completed her medical degree at the University of Alberta, and master’s degrees: in clinical effectiveness at the Harvard School of Public Health, in bioethics and medical humanities at University of Louisville, and in surgery at the University of Saskatchewan. She was the first fellow in the distinguished MD Anderson Cancer Center Susan G. Komen Interdisciplinary Breast Cancer Fellowship Program, which covered “the whole breadth” of breast cancer treatment. “I came out of that experience not only being a very good breast surgeon, but a very good breast cancer specialist in total,” she says.

At the University of Louisville, she built the James Graham Brown Cancer Center multidisciplinary breast program “from the ground up,” and as director helped make it Kentucky’s first nationally accredited breast cancer center.

Passion for the work

In addition, Chagpar performed surgery for 350 patients last year, and expects to continue that pace at Yale. She is well versed in the latest techniques of oncoplastic surgery, skin-sparing and nipple-sparing mastectomy and sentinel node biopsy. “I am passionate about this work. I love the close collaboration with colleagues across disciplines and the relationship you have with your patients. There’s a connectedness,” she says.

Chagpar has held leadership roles in organizations such as the American Cancer Society, and is the principal investigator on several research projects funded through the National Institutes of Health. Her research at Yale will include projects looking at racial disparities and survivorship issues, and the effect of mindfulness and stress on circadian rhythms and immune response to breast cancer. Her research toward creating a simple clinical prediction model to look at survival after chest wall recurrence following mastectomy is already being used to tailor therapy to individual patients.

An exciting time at Smilow

Thomas J. Lynch, Jr.,MD, director of the Yale Cancer Center and Physician-in-Chief of Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven, says Chagpar is in an important position. “The Breast Center at Yale is at the very heart of efforts to improve the outcome for women treated with breast cancer in Connecticut and in the nation. Dr. Chagpar is nationally recognized for her continued efforts in breast cancer care and research. Her leadership and clinical expertise will complement the exceptional clinical care offered in the Women’s Health Center and greatly benefit patients with breast cancer at Smilow Cancer Hospital,” he said.

Chagpar’s message to Breast Center patients, referring physicians and anyone else who listens is that treatment and care is changing rapidly, and they can put aside their fear. Advances in areas such as targeted therapy, radiation, surgery and reconstructive surgery are continuing to provide new options, and early detection is bringing better outcomes.

“Five years from now, I would hope that there would be a shift, so we don’t even see many women with locally advanced cancers,” Chagpar says. “It’s something that we’re absolutely on the cusp of. The wonderful thing will be when women look back on their diagnosis and say, you know what, it really was a speed bump.”

To contact the Yale Breast Center, please call 203.200.2328.

Submitted by Mark Santore on January 16, 2014