U-M Breast Care Center celebrates state and national honors

The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center is celebrating honors bestowed upon two individuals who have made significant contributions to cancer treatment and care. Both work at the U-M Breast Care Center, which was the first academic multidisciplinary breast care center in the country and celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2010.

In May, nurse G. Lita Smith, M.S., R.N., A.C.N.P., was presented with the 2012 American Cancer Society Lane W. Adams Quality of Life Award, a prestigious national prize for cancer caregiving. Then, in June, Lisa Newman, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Breast Care Center at the UMCCC, was named one of the Detroit News' Michiganians of the Year.

G. Lita Smith

G. Lita Smith, M.S., R.N., A.C.N.P.
G. Lita Smith, M.S., R.N., A.C.N.P.

Smith, a nurse practitioner in the Breast Care Center and nurse practitioner supervisor at the UMCCC, is one of 11 cancer care providers being honored this year.

"It is a privilege and an honor to work with breast cancer patients and their families. I know that each patient's journey is unique and requires individualized education, guidance and support to help patients and their families navigate through a breast cancer diagnosis and the many modalities of treatment used today," Smith says.

The Lane W. Adams Quality of Life Award recognizes individuals who have made a difference through innovation, leadership and consistent excellence in providing compassionate, skilled care and counsel to cancer patients and their families.

"Lita brings a personal commitment to every patient with whom she comes in contact. Each is her mother or her sister -- and she expects the rest of us to do likewise. She is the epitome of what an oncology health care provider should be," says Daniel F. Hayes, M.D., Stuart B. Padnos Professor of Breast Cancer Research and clinical director of the breast oncology program at the UMCCC.

After watching her mother battle breast cancer for 10 years, Smith gained an interest in medicine and helping people. She now helps patients and their families through their entire breast cancer journey, and she is also committed to fundraising for breast cancer research and education.

"Like light in the darkness, Lita fights hard for me and with me," says Lori A. Eastman, one of Smith's patients. Eastman nominated Smith for the award. "She has made me feel as if I were the most important patient in her practice, and I know she treats all of her patients with the same concern, kindness and dedication."

Lisa Newman

In the June 21 edition of the Detroit News, Newman was honored for her work in disparities related to an aggressive type of breast cancer called triple negative, which disproportionately affects African-American women. Triple-negative breast cancer is so called because the tumor is negative for three specific markers that are used to determine treatment. The most successful treatment advances in breast cancer have targeted these three markers. None of these therapies are effective in triple-negative breast cancer.

"A large part of the explanation for why African-American women (experience more) relapses and higher mortality rates from breast cancer is because these triple negative breast cancers are twice as common in African-American women compared to white American women," Newman tells the Detroit News.

Among women with breast cancer, this subtype represents about 15 percent of diagnoses in white American women, a quarter in African-American women and more than half in African women.

Newman's research has taken her to Ghana, where she studies tumors from African women with breast cancer. She has found that Ghanaian women tend to get breast cancer at a younger age than American women, and are likely to have larger, more advanced tumors.

In addition to her research, Newman, professor of surgery in the U-M Medical School, treats patients with breast cancer and frequently speaks about breast cancer awareness, particularly in the African-American community.

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