Breast Surgical Oncology Fellowship Program will enhance breast cancer expertise in Delaware

Diana Dickson-Witmer, M.D., FACS
Diana Dickson-Witmer, M.D., FACS

To improve the health of women in Delaware, Christiana Care’s Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute has developed a new Breast Surgical Oncology Fellowship Program that recently earned a five-year approval from the Society of Surgical Oncology.

The fellowship is open to general surgeons nationwide. Fellows will spend one year developing a strong knowledge of all aspects of breast disease, breast oncology and breast surgery.

“This fellowship program will enable us to prepare surgeons to become experts in breast disease and in the implementation of the latest, evidence-based breast cancer treatments, creating optimal health for patients throughout Delaware,” said Nicholas J. Petrelli, M.D., Bank of America endowed medical director of Christiana Care Health System’s Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute. “Receiving approval from the Society of Surgical Oncology for five years underscores the quality of the curriculum and the faculty.”

The program is one of only 50 the Society of Surgical Oncology has approved in the nation. It will meet an important need in Delaware, where breast cancer is still the No. 1 cancer diagnosed in women statewide, and where there are only three Christiana Care surgeons who specialize in breast surgery. There are no surgeons in either Kent or Sussex counties whose practice is devoted exclusively to breast disease.

Nicholas J. Petrelli, M.D.

Program director is Diana Dickson-Witmer, M.D., FACS, breast surgeon and medical director of the Breast Center at the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute. She led the development of the program and worked with a core faculty at Christiana Care to advance expertise in breast disease and in breast cancer research, as well as in breast surgery, and in the comprehensive and coordinated care of breast cancer patients in Delaware. Core faculty members included medical and radiation oncologists, surgeons, genetic counselors, pathologists, psychologists, radiologists and cancer researchers.

“Many general surgeons do a very good job caring for patients with breast disease, but a community needs to have a few surgeons who dedicate their time exclusively to the care of breast diseases,” Dr. Dickson-Witmer said. “Breast surgeons are needed to care for very complex cases, and to be leaders in interpreting results of clinical trials and implementing practice-changing results at their institution.”

The multidisciplinary program encompasses a team approach in breast care. Dr. Dickson-Witmer explained that the fellows not only advance their knowledge and skill in breast surgery, but they also will learn about breast imaging and diagnosis, radiation and medical oncology, plastic surgery, genetics, research techniques, clinical trial initiation, pathology, psychology, social services, supportive care and rehabilitation.

Breast surgeons will work with certified genetic counselors to help spread information about the rapidly changing role of germline mutations in patients.

“Breast surgeons are also needed to work with translational cancer researchers to design and carry out clinical trials, and to increase patient enrollment to national clinical trials,” Dr. Dickson-Witmer said.

The program could accept its first fellow as early as August 2017.

Those playing a key role in supporting the program include Christian Care physicians Gerard J. Fulda, M.D., FACS, FCCM, FCCP, chair of the Department of Surgery, Frederick Giberson, M.D., MACM, FACS, vice chair of surgical education/program director, and Neil Jasani, M.D., MBA, FACEP, chief learning officer, chief academic officer, and vice president of Medical Affairs.