Dr. Christine Pellegrino, a member of Montefiore’s breast cancer team, has seen major advances in breast cancer treatment after well over a decade treating patients.
Pellegrino, 50, has been part of Montefiore’s unit since she was an oncology ‘fellow’ medical student, and sees patients at both the Einstein campus in Morris Park, and at Montefiore Moses in Norwood. There has been so much advancement in research and treatments in breast cancer, she says, that just to keep up with all that is new, doctors have branched out and now focus only on specific types of cancer.
“Oncology as a whole, and certainly the world of breast cancer, has gone the way of sub-specialists,” she said. “Because to keep up with the advances in each field is tremendous. So people have really found their niche in different disease types.”
Relating specifically to breast cancer, there have been major improvements in recent years in hormonal therapy, with new drugs for pre- and post-menopausal women, she said.
There are now also many more chemotherapy treatments in terms of the number of available drugs, she added.
And there are more targeted and directed therapies for certain types of breast cancer that significantly improve outcomes for women, whether they have an early stage of cancer or they have stage 4 metastatic cancer, the final stage. Surgeries are also much more defined, said Pellegrino, with better technology allowing surgeons to just focus on the cancerous parts of breast tissue.
Outcomes have definitely improved for all categories of patients, said the doctor, adding that patients even for patients who are already stage 4 of breast cancer, there used to be projected survival of about six months when she started, but that this has now risen to two years of median survival, with many more living even longer.
Ideally, of course, it is best to catch breast cancer early, and women should get checked. This is one of the goals of this special pink ribbon breast cancer edition of the Bronx Times.
Caring for patients
“I think in oncology, what is of utmost importance is that while you cannot cure everybody, the bottom line is you want people to have a good life,” said Pellegrino. “And whether they are going to live a nice normal life span, but have to get through treatment, or they are not going to live very long and may or may not need treatment, I think it is deeply important in both of these scenarios to make sure that you have the finger on the pulse of what the patients can do to have a good life.”
She added: “Trying to get women back into their everyday life and minimize side-effects and anxiety is what I find a very gratifying part of this.”
She has to get women to overcome psychological challenges so women can get to the point where they can accept their diagnosis, and also agree to treatment that may be life-altering in terms of changes to their body or side effects. .
To do this, Montefiore breast team considers all aspects of a patients’s life, including whether or not a woman has a family or job responsibilities, and how financial or cultural issues may affect care, she explained.
Montefiore also offers a wellness program called Bronx Oncology Living Daily for cancer patients. Since its start about five years ago and a subsequent expansion, BOLD has offered classes including yoga, meditation, drum circle, a crochet group, a Reiki healing circle, stress management, creative art and writing, music therapy, nutrition, and fitness.