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Breast cancer survivors, understand your heart health risks

Dr. Maya Guglin

Dr. Maya Guglin

Written by Dr. Maya Guglin a cardiologist at the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute.

Recently, the American Heart Association published a striking statement concerning women who have undergone chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment for breast cancer. The statement indicated that these therapies can contribute to heart failure or other heart problems, even years after the conclusion of cancer treatment.

If you are being treated for breast cancer or even if you are a survivor, this is undoubtedly a scary thought.

There is good news, however: Not all cancer treatment therapies can cause heart problems, and there are ways to potentially minimize your risk.

Which cancer therapies can cause heart damage?

Oncologists have long counseled patients about the risks associated with many life-saving cancer drugs. Two major classes of drugs linked to cardiac problems are anthracyclines and Herceptin (also known as trastuzumab). Their effects are very different.

Anthracyclines, including drugs like doxorubicin, can cause profound and long-lasting effects on cardiac muscles. These effects, however, are dose-dependent, and oncologists monitor the doses very carefully.

Herceptin typically causes milder cardiac damage, which is mostly reversible.

Additionally, radiation can cause arteries to narrow or develop blockages, which can lead to heart failure.

How can I minimize the risk to my heart?

Because of these side effects of cancer drugs, you probably had to have an echocardiogram – an ultrasound examination of the heart – to make sure your heart is healthy and can withstand the treatment.

Sometimes physicians may recommend altering therapy to avoid the possibility of heart damage. For example, instead of giving certain chemotherapies in one large dose, they may be less risky if given more slowly. And common cardiac medications like beta blockers may be able to reduce or prevent damage to the heart.

What should I do if I’ve had these treatments in the past?

The most important thing is to be aware of your risk for heart problems and to pay attention to your body. Fatigue, heart palpitations, shortness of breath and swelling are just a few symptoms of heart failure that are often overlooked.

Also, be sure you know the specific drugs you took for breast cancer. If you’re seeing a new doctor or coming into the emergency department, make sure your provider knows about your history with breast cancer treatment.

How can I reduce my risk of heart disease following breast cancer treatment?

Living a healthy lifestyle – managing your weight, eating well, exercising, and keeping an eye on your blood pressure and cholesterol – can help reduce your chances of developing heart problems.

Major research is currently underway regarding this particular problem. We hope that we can soon find ways to lessen or eliminate these potential risks to the heart from breast cancer therapies.


Next steps:

New year, new goals for UK grad student and cancer survivor

Meg Gravil has a few major goals for 2018. She wants to continue to build her level of fitness, and she plans to finish her dissertation by the end of the year.

But most importantly, Gravil wants to remain cancer-free.

As a UK College of Education graduate student studying interdisciplinary early childhood education, Gravil finished her qualifying exams in spring 2015 and began working on her dissertation. But just a few months later, her life ground to a halt.

After a regular annual exam, she was called back for a diagnostic mammogram and then a biopsy. Shortly after, she got a phone call from the UK Markey Cancer Center.

Diagnosis and recurrence

“I was sitting home on a Friday afternoon, and I had just five minutes to walk to go get my daughter from school,” Gravil said. “The phone rang. It was a nurse at Markey, and she said, ‘The results are positive. You have cancer.’”

The news came as a shock to Gravil, who was only 43 years old at the time and had no family history of breast cancer. She chose to have a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction, performed in separate surgeries by UK’s Dr. Patrick McGrath and Dr. Brian Rinker.

“For peace of mind, I thought, take it all,” Gravil said.

Although the entire breast is removed during a mastectomy, the surgery isn’t a guarantee that the patient will remain cancer-free. Breast cancer can still return to the chest wall or nearby lymph nodes, known as locoregional recurrence, and an estimated 5 to 10 percent of women who undergo a mastectomy will experience a recurrence.

For Gravil, all was well at first. But just a few months later, she noticed a nodule that continued to get larger and redder. After having several doctors examine it, she received the bad news: The breast cancer had returned.

“I was absolutely stunned,” she said. “It was worrisome, because the recurrence was so soon after my initial diagnosis. The biggest part of that was thinking about my daughter – what if something happens to me? What effect will that have on my daughter’s life?”

Just one year after her initial surgery, Gravil was back in the operating room for surgery to remove the new tumor and install a port for chemotherapy. Chemo came next, and then radiation. The second time around, Gravil said, she was determined to do whatever it took to beat the disease. When her hair began falling out, she hosted a head-shaving party in her backyard with family and friends.

“The first time I was diagnosed, I was worried about losing my hair,” she said. “The second time, that was an afterthought – it was just, ‘I’ll do whatever I need to do to kick this thing.’”

Aiding recovery with exercise

While undergoing treatment at Markey, Gravil chose to participate in several programs at the UK Integrative Medicine & Health Clinic, including jin shin jyutsu and narrative medicine. Through Integrative Medicine & Health, she learned about LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, a free 12-week exercise program offered to cancer survivors. While attending Markey’s Expressions of Courage survivorship event last June, Gravil spoke with Corey Donohoo, director of community health at the Y, and decided to start the program in July.

Some of the most common side effects of cancer treatment include fatigue and weakness. Through the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program, the certified trainers help survivors build up their strength and endurance based on their individual assessment and goals.

“At the beginning and end of the program, we do functional assessments, and we’re likely to see improvement,” Donohoo said. “But what’s really rewarding is to hear the stories of what these participants are able to do because of the program, like playing with their kids or grandkids, getting up and down, running errands, and more.”

Although Gravil is relatively active – she enjoys being outdoors and hiking – she hadn’t participated in any regular exercise routine in decades. Through the program, she got the opportunity to try a number of new fitness modalities, from learning to use the equipment on the floor of the gym, to TRX, yoga and Pilates Reformer.

And last September, she discovered that she was stronger than she realized, when she scaled a rock wall during a mother-daughter retreat at Life Adventure Center in Versailles. However, her newfound strength isn’t the only thing she’s gained.

“The big component wasn’t just feeling physically stronger and getting stamina back,” Gravil said. “The mental health and psychological benefits were really great for me.”

Regular exercise (and by extension, weight management) plays a significant role in maintaining the well-being of cancer survivors, according to Gravil’s oncologist at Markey, Dr. Aju Mathew. During treatment, it can help patients better tolerate their therapy. After completion of their treatment, it will improve functional capacity and promote healing.

Additionally, Mathew says, exercise may offer some protective benefits for survivors.

“There is increasing evidence that regular exercise can reduce the risk for cancer recurrence, as well,” Mathew said. “Overall, exercise and fitness training is a win-win for persons with a history of cancer.”

Looking forward

Throughout her journey, she says she’s been happy and confident in the care she received from her Markey physicians, nurses and staff.

“I was really impressed with the time that they took with me during my appointments,” she said. “I never felt like I was being rushed off – they answered all my questions to my satisfaction.”

With life more settled, Gravil already has momentum for her first two 2018 goals. She continues to go to the YMCA (Pilates Reformer is now her favorite class), and has begun the research and writing for her dissertation. If she finishes in December, she can walk to receive her PhD in special education next May.

And with her treatments at Markey complete – she finished her last dose of Herceptin in December – Gravil is looking forward to maintaining that most important goal of all.


Next steps:

  • Markey is Kentucky’s only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, providing world-class cancer care right here in the Commonwealth. Learn more about why patients choose Markey for their cancer treatment.
  • Watch our Making the Rounds post featuring breast cancer specialist Dr. Aju Mathew, where he tells us about his newest hobby and which historical figure he most admires.
Making the Rounds with Dr. Emily Marcinkowski

Growing up around the operating room inspired this cancer surgeon

Making the RoundsOctober is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we caught up with Dr. Emily Marcinkowski, a surgical oncologist who specializes in breast cancer, for our latest Making the Rounds interview.

Dr. Marcinkowski joined the Comprehensive Breast Care Center at the UK Markey Cancer Center after completing a fellowship at the City of Hope National Medical Center in California. 

Why did you decide to become a surgeon?

My mother was a scrub nurse, so I kind of grew up going to the operating room and spent a lot of time around the hospital. Whenever she was on call, I was on call.

I really liked surgery because you can really help people and help fix a problem. And I like the relationships that surgeons have with patients. People are very vulnerable when they come in, and you get to develop a relationship with them and truly have a pretty tight patient-doctor relationship.

How do you develop those relationships with your patients?

I really like to listen to them, listen to what their goals are. Women have very different opinions about their breasts. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, some women really want to keep their breasts, some women want to have their breasts removed and some women want to come in, get their therapy and get on with their lives.

It’s very different for each patient, and I think just sitting back and listening to their stories is important. Some patients have a very strong family history of cancer and because of that, their diagnosis frightens them very much. Just hearing that, it helps me individualize their care plan.

What does a typical day away from the office look like?

My husband and I usually go eat someplace new and fun for lunch, and then I usually work out in my garden. We bought a house with about an acre on it, which is more land than I’ve ever had. We have planter boxes all over, and the tomatoes have taken over the world.

And anything on Netflix, we’ll watch.

What’s your favorite food?

Mexican food. Or anything that involves cheese. There are few things that cheese won’t cure.


Check out our video interview with Dr. Marcinkowski, where she talks about the personalized, individualized care that Markey offers patients with breast cancer.


Next steps:

UK Nursing student Brandy Smith received a breast cancer diagnosis while still in school. But rather than lose hope, she was determined to graduate on time.

UK nursing student refuses to let cancer diagnosis delay her dreams

Striding across the finish line in pink knee-high socks imprinted with the phrase “tough ta-tas,” Brandy Smith completed her first 5K as a breast cancer survivor on Oct. 23.

She wore a victory sash and clasped a pink carnation as she and husband Jason waited for friends at the ballpark. The race was a moment of exhalation for the UK student who refused to let her illness hinder her progress toward becoming a nurse.

Smith diagnosed with breast cancer while in school

One year earlier, Smith walked across the same finish line at the Whitaker Bank Lexington Legends Stadium knowing her struggle with breast cancer was just beginning. At the time of her diagnosis, the 28-year-old from Middlesboro, Ky. was working clinical rotations at Kentucky Children’s Hospital, the UK Birthing Center and UK Polk-Dalton Clinic, as well as taking courses in the UK College of Nursing.

Breast cancer threatened to interrupt her progress toward graduation. After detecting an abnormal lump on the top of her right breast last October, Smith immediately suspected she was the next victim of breast cancer in her family. Oncologists at the UK Markey Cancer Center located a stage-2 tumor the size of a softball on the outer top of her right breast, which required aggressive and immediate chemotherapy followed by radiation and a bilateral mastectomy. When she got the call with the biopsy results, her suspicions were confirmed.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, I know,’” Smith said of hearing the news. “I did cry, but it was not a shocker.”

Smith believes ‘movement is medicine’

After her diagnosis, Smith tested positive for the BRCA-1 gene, learning her genetic predisposition put her at an 85 percent chance of developing the disease. Her treatment plan included rounds of aggressive chemotherapy treatment and double mastectomy surgery in the spring. She consulted with professors and the dean of the UK College of Nursing, who supported her decision to push through school and an intensive treatment plan at the same time.

“She was like, ‘Let’s do this,’” Smith said of Dean Janie Heath.

But beating cancer and finishing school wasn’t enough for Smith, who thrives on activity. She wanted to finish next year’s breast cancer awareness race as a runner and a survivor. Despite the physical hardship and exhaustion in the coming year, she decided to take up walking, and when she had the energy, running. She signed up for races and mentored young runners. She even joined an online runner’s group, connecting with fellow runners and cancer patients across the globe.

“Some people said I should take some time off nursing school,” Smith said. “For me, movement is medicine.”

Running and physical activity boosted Smith’s immune system and helped her body recuperate after depressive treatments. Smith believes keeping company with positive people and staying active kept her emotionally and physically stable through the rigors of nursing training and cancer treatment.

Family taught Smith to stay positive

No stranger to breast cancer, Smith learned toughness battling the disease from women in her family. Her maternal grandmother and seven aunts received a breast cancer diagnosis and her cousin tested positive for BRCA-1. Smith’s mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer at 26, and after beating the disease experienced a recurrence at 30. Growing up around breast cancer survivors sensitized Smith to the importance of regular screenings and mammograms. She said she learned how to fight cancer from her mother’s positive outlook.

“This is the exact same way she tackled it,” Smith said, referring to how her mother approached cancer. “That is one thing I have to say, I learned it from my mom. I took her positivity. When she had it, she never let anything get her down.”

Smith’s diagnosis came at a critical point in her nursing education. Rather than postponing her career goals, she continued clinical and classroom training through 12 weeks of dual chemotherapy, 12 more weeks of another chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and radiation therapy during the summer. Also, with goals to have a family, Smith went through oncofertility treatment, which induced menopause during chemotherapy to preserve her reproductive functioning. Refusing to use her disease as an excuse to stay home, Smith missed one clinical during the fall semester and was absent for two weeks for her mastectomy procedure. Her husband sometimes doubted whether she was well enough to go, but Smith always insisted.

“I could be in worse places,” she said. “I am surrounded by nurses, so if something goes bad, they know what to do.”

UK Nursing helps one of its own

Smith’s professors and classmates rallied behind Smith in her effort to graduate in December 2016. Many of her professors organized meals and accommodated her treatment schedule to ensure she had the opportunity to succeed. Smith completed clinical rotations wearing a beanie to cover her head and hiding the port in her chest. Chemotherapy affected her energy level and sometimes interfered with her ability to focus for exams. Students and faculty donated items and brought her Mr. Goodbars after her mastectomy surgery.

Smith also mentored elementary age girls during her cancer treatment. As part of her required public health rotation, she volunteered for Girls on the Run at Lansdowne Elementary, boosting their confidence and self-esteem and encouraging them to stay physically active. Her students sent her a load of get-well cards after her mastectomy surgery.

“I still have glitter all over my house,” she said.

Moving forward as a cancer survivor

As a cancer survivor, Smith plans to enter pediatric oncology nursing when she graduates this December. After her year battling cancer, she feels she can relate to young oncology patients and bring positivity to situations that seem hopeless. She has also learned emotional toughness, which will help her stay strong when seeing others suffering or enduring harsh therapies. She will also encourage children to move and play through pain and sickness to boost their immune systems and morale.

“You have to laugh through it because it’s what helps you,” she said. “I want to encourage them to be active, even if it’s just getting up and walking around a playroom.”

In a gathering of her entire College of Nursing class, Smith announced her cancer-free status on Oct. 5. The news was met with a round of applause. Many students sent her messages saying they were inspired by her resilience and positivity, which persists after cancer.

“As much fun as I’ve had, it’s been horrible at times,” Smith said. “But it could have been worse — I got to have milkshakes every day.”

Media inquiries: Elizabeth Adams, University of Kentucky Public Relations and Marketing, elizabethtadams@uky.edu.


Next steps:

Tomosynthesis at UK HealthCare

Advanced technology for breast cancer screening

Is it time for your annual breast cancer screening? Do you need diagnostic imaging? Here’s something to consider.

The Comprehensive Breast Care Center (CBCC) at the UK Markey Cancer Center offers state-of-the-art digital tomosynthesis for breast cancer screening and diagnostic services. UK HealthCare is one of only a few medical centers in the state to offer this new technology.

Tomosynthesis is 3-D technology that allows radiologists to see individual breast structures without overlapping tissue. In addition to providing the traditional top and side images of the breasts taken during a regular 2-D mammogram, tomosynthesis allows the technologist to take X-ray pictures of each breast from many angles. A computer then combines all this information into one 3-D image, making it possible to find much smaller and earlier-stage cancers. A tomosynthesis exam will feel no different from a usual mammogram, except that it takes just four seconds longer.

Dr. Margaret Szabunio, associate medical director of the CBCC and division chief of women’s radiology at UK HealthCare, along with her team of dedicated breast radiologists, specialize in using tomosynthesis for the early detection of breast cancer.

“Tomosynthesis produces images in tiny 1 millimeter slices that can be reconstructed into a 3-D image of the tissue, similar to the way a CT scan works,” Szabunio said. “It allows us to look at breast tissue in a way we’ve never been able to before.”

Dr. Mark Evers, director of the UK Markey Cancer Center, says the technology, along with Szabunio and her team’s expertise, have a significant impact on patients.

“Dr. Szabunio’s experience with tomosynthesis digital breast imaging is of great benefit to our patients when it comes to detecting breast cancer in its early stages,” Evers said. “The earlier a cancer is detected, the higher a patient’s chances are for a full recovery. This technology has the potential to save many, many lives.”

The CBCC uses tomosynthesis as a regular screening tool for all women, women who are at a high risk for breast cancer or for women that need diagnostic follow-up for a mammogram that shows an abnormality.

Make an appointment with the CBCC by calling 859-323-2222 or visiting our online appointment request form.


Next steps:

  • Confused about when to get a mammogram? Check out our Q&A with Dr. Szabunio, who tells us why mammograms are so important and what she recommends when it comes to screening.
  • Our latest Making the Rounds blog featured breast cancer specialist Dr. Aju Mathew. He tells us about his newest hobby and which historical figure he most admires. Check it out.
A new study led by UK Markey Cancer researchers and published in the Journal of Cell Science establishes a novel link between cell polarity and cancer-associated inflammation.

Proposed clinical trial could change the game for triple-negative breast cancer

This is the first post in a two-part series about UK Markey Cancer Center researchers’ efforts to improve treatment for triple-negative breast cancer, a deadly form of the disease. Check out Part Two here.

UK Markey Cancer Center Oncologist Dr. Edward Romond spent his career at UK treating and studying breast cancer, even leading major Phase 3 clinical trials on the breast cancer drug trastuzumab in the early 2000s. Commonly known as Herceptin, this drug became a standard of care for patients with HER2-positive breast cancer.

Though he retired from practice last year, Romond continues to work part-time with the research team at Markey, this time pushing toward a cure for a different, more deadly, type of breast cancer.

“Breast cancer, we now recognize, is at least five different diseases that are completely different from each other,” Romond said. “And the hardest nut to crack is this one called triple-negative breast cancer.”

Treating triple-negative breast cancer

Triple-negative breast cancer is a moniker given to a particularly aggressive group of breast cancers that often affect younger women. Unlike the receptor-positive types of breast cancer, which have biomarkers that tell oncologists which treatment the patient should respond to, triple negative breast cancers have no definitive biomarkers. If the patient does not respond well to the current standard of care, it’s up to the oncologist to make an educated guess about which chemotherapy will do the job.

The good news is that triple-negative breast cancers do generally respond well to chemotherapy. However, because triple-negative breast cancers are not the same, and every single patient responds differently to various chemotherapies, it’s difficult to predict which chemotherapy will best treat each patient’s cancer.

But the researchers at Markey are working to change that paradox. Markey’s Breast Translational Group is currently developing a proposed clinical trial that could create a major shift in the way triple-negative breast cancers are treated.

Currently, after a patient is diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, she usually receives chemotherapy first to try and shrink the tumor (known as neoadjuvant therapy), followed by surgery to remove as much of the mass as possible. The patients are then monitored for signs of recurrence. If a patient has residual cancer despite getting neoadjuvant chemotherapy, they are at a high risk for recurrence.

Proposed clinical trial

There are currently at least six different types of chemotherapy that can be used as a possible therapy for patients, and each one may affect each individual patient in a different way. To tailor the treatment to each distinct patient, the investigators aim to test the tumors in a set of animal model “avatars” with these different therapies to gauge the response.

Here’s how the proposed trial would work: after the patient’s biopsy, her cancerous tissue would be transferred into a mouse that is bred to grow human tumors, then subsequently into three dozen mice: her “avatars.” While the patient undergoes neoadjuvant chemotherapy and then surgery – a process that can take up to six months – the avatars will be divided into groups, with each group receiving one of the six available chemotherapies.

When the researchers see which avatar group has the best result, they’ll know which chemotherapy should work best for that patient. Knowing this would provide additional options for women who have residual cancer after neoadjuvant chemotherapy, and may reduce their risk for disease recurrence.

“It would prevent us from having to experiment with each individual patient, and end up finding that they didn’t respond to that therapy,” said Kathleen O’Connor, director of Markey’s Breast Translational Group. “If we can do this, then the oncologists will no longer have to guess.”

Disrupting the standard of care

Dr. Aju Mathew, a medical oncologist who treats triple-negative breast cancer patients at Markey, compares his team’s game-changing proposition to the way Uber has altered the use of public and personal transportation.

“We often hear about disruptive technology — Uber being one, for example,” he said. “It disrupted the current paradigm of everyone driving a car on their own or hiring a cab. This trial is our way of disrupting the current standard of care, the current technology, and the current practice of medicine, to try to change the paradigm of ‘one size fits all’ approach for triple-negative breast cancer patients.”

Though the avatar model of research isn’t new, O’Connor notes that not many researchers are using them specifically for the treatment of an individual patient. Using a trial protocol to get the tissues directly from the patient’s biopsy is a key factor in making the research work.

“The important thing is that we need to get the tumor tissue before they’ve been exposed to chemotherapy,” O’Connor said. “This is one of the things that makes our trial unique.”

With the trial design in place, the team just needs to provide ample data showing that growing a patient’s tumor in the avatar from biopsy will work. But to gather that data, they need more funding. Initial pilot funds stemming from Markey’s National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation grant have enabled the team to establish their first set of avatars with tissues taken from patients’ surgeries. But a boost in funding would help them establish the preliminary data for the trial and allow the team to then apply for major federal funding.

“We have a large group of people who have freely given their time up to this point,” O’Connor said. “But we need to have money to protect the time of the researchers doing this work, and we need enough money to get the mice in order to do this.”

Check out the video below to see Markey researchers talk about their triple-negative breast cancer research.


Next steps:

Triple-negative breast cancer can be difficult to treat, but a new clinical trial currently in development at the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center could potentially change the standard of care for this deadly disease.

Mom continues daughter’s fight to raise breast cancer awareness

This is the second post in a two-part series about UK Markey Cancer Center researchers’ efforts to improve treatment for triple-negative breast cancer, a deadly form of the disease. Check out Part One here.

Funding for triple-negative breast cancer has been a major focus for Lexington resident Cindy Praska, whose daughter Whitney was diagnosed with the disease in 2007 at age 24. After undergoing a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation at another hospital, Whitney was deemed cancer-free.

In the years following her diagnosis, Whitney became an advocate for breast cancer awareness and fundraising, becoming actively involved in the Frankfort Country Club’s Rally for the Cure, which has raised money for the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the UK Markey Cancer Center for nearly 20 years.

Though her initial treatment for triple-negative breast cancer was successful, Whitney then developed bone cancer, or osteosarcoma, in 2012. This time, she elected to have her surgery out of state and came to Markey for her chemotherapy. Genetic testing revealed she carried a P53 genetic mutation, which was the cause of her original cancer, and combined with the radiation she had received prior, also caused her osteosarcoma. Despite Whitney’s and her doctors’ best efforts, her cancer metastasized and she succumbed to the disease in November of that year.

Carrying the torch for her daughter, Cindy continues to push for education, awareness and research toward triple-negative breast cancer and is still heavily involved in fundraising.

This Saturday, Oct. 15, Cindy and the team behind the Frankfort Country Club Rally for the Cure have planned a “party with a purpose” called Bourbon & Jazz for the Cure to celebrate the organization’s 20th anniversary. Held at the Frankfort Country Club on Saturday at 6:30 p.m., this special fundraising gala includes a silent and live auction featuring limited-edition Buffalo Trace bourbon bottles, and the funds raised from the gala will directly benefit the research team behind Markey’s proposed triple-negative breast cancer clinical trial.

“Whitney helped bring awareness to this disease, and it is so rewarding to me that work is progressing so that more young women her age will live to marry, have a family, and be able to see their young children grow up,” Cindy said. “It has given me a purpose to be an advocate for these causes and it’s an honor to be supporting Markey, who we called family and home the last year of her life.”


Next steps:

Meet Dr. Aju Mathew, breast cancer specialist and history buff

Making the RoundsDr. Aju Mathew, a medical oncologist at the UK Markey Cancer Center, is featured in this week’s Making the Rounds. Making the Rounds is a Q&A series where you’ll get to know the providers at UK HealthCare and what they’re like outside the lab and clinic.

Dr. Mathew studied medicine in the United Kingdom and later in India, his home country. At the UK Markey Cancer Center, he works as part of the care team specializing in breast cancer treatment.

How would your friends and family describe you?

I think they would describe me as a very passionate person who has no hesitation voicing his opinions. I’m very passionate.

Describe your ideal weekend.

A nice sunny day where I can go out with my wife for a nice hike. I love nature and the outdoors.

What website do you visit most often?

I’m a news buff so I visit news websites a lot, but I like Facebook, too.

What’s the last movie you saw?

I saw Race. It’s a fascinating movie about Jesse Owens, an African American sprinter, and how he crossed several racial barriers and basically embarrassed the Nazis in their home territory at the Olympics. He won four gold medals.

What’s the last book you read?

I just finished a book on the history of Japan. It’s an amazing tale. Right now I’m reading a book on Eric Liddell. It’s called For the Glory. He’s an athlete – he inspired the movie Chariots of Fire, and he won the Olympic gold.

I love history.

Do you have a hobby or interest outside of medicine?

Going to the antique mall and checking out old, old newspapers. I have 1940s newspapers of the D-Day landing, and I spend time reading through them and it’s fascinating! It’s my latest hobby.

What historical or fictional character do you most identify with?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor and anti-Nazi dissident. He went against the stream of the times and made a tough decision, which is even controversial now, by opposing the Nazi regime. He sensed what is right and he did it, even in the fact of what was happening during those times.

Fictional character? Batman.


Check out our video interview below with Dr. Mathew, where he discusses the breast cancer treatment at Markey and his patient care philosophy.


Next steps:

Clearing up confusion about breast cancer screening.

Confused about when to get a mammogram?

Dr. Margaret Szabunio

Dr. Margaret Szabunio

When should you have your first mammogram? How often should you be screened?

There are a lot of different answers out there, and the result is confusion and frustration for many women. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we sat down with Dr. Margaret Szabunio, associate medical director of the UK Comprehensive Breast Care Center, to discuss why mammograms are so important and what she recommends.

How common is breast cancer?

Szabunio: One in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Of these women, three in four will have no family history of breast cancer.

Why should women have mammograms?

Szabunio: Despite varying recommendations about timing and frequency, mammography remains the best method we have for finding breast cancer early at a curable stage. Since mammography screening became widespread in the 1990s, the U.S. breast cancer death rate has decreased by 30 percent.

When should women have their first mammogram?

Szabunio: You should have your first mammogram at age 40 and an annual screening every year after that. Why? Because it results in the greatest mortality reduction, the most lives saved and the most life years gained.

Your chances of getting breast cancer increase substantially around age 40. In fact, women ages 40-44 are twice as likely to develop the disease as women ages 35-39. One in six breast cancers occur in women age 40-49.

By not getting annual mammograms starting at age 40, you increase your chances of dying from breast cancer and the likelihood that you will experience more extensive and expensive treatment for any cancers found.

If you have a family history of breast cancer or you are otherwise at increased risk, let your doctor know and discuss the best screening plan for you.

Besides talking with their doctor about mammograms, what else can women do to prevent breast cancer?

Szabunio: A healthy lifestyle decreases risk for cancer and many other diseases. Eat a healthy diet low in fat with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and exercise regularly. Avoid alcohol and cigarettes, both of which increase the risk for breast and other cancers.

But remember, even women with a healthy lifestyle may develop breast cancer, and there is no substitute for screening mammography to find cancers early and reduce deaths from breast cancer.


Next steps:

Doctor from Ethiopia visits UK to observe breast cancer research

From the mountains and waterfalls of Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, to the rolling hills and equine landscapes of Lexington, Kentucky, Dr. Getachew Hailu endured an exhausting 17-hour trip this summer to begin his sabbatical year at the University of Kentucky.

During this year, Hailu said he hopes to observe other doctors and learn more about cancer, his main field of interest, while working at UK’s College of Medicine.

“I was already considering a sabbatical, and in January of this year, (a representative from) the UK College of Medicine made a trip to Bahir Dar and eventually convinced me to come to Kentucky,” Hailu said.

Hailu is no stranger to Kentucky. He visited in 2014 and enjoyed a tour of UK’s campus. He said he was amazed by the “kindness and receptiveness” of the people. This time around, his trip is not for tourism, but to learn more about his field of pathology and observe the medical practices in the United States.

Hailu defines pathology as the “medical discipline focusing on diseases” with his personal focus being cancer diagnosis. His interest was sparked after seeing how so many women in his home country of Ethiopia were diagnosed with breast cancer at a stage too late due to inadequate technologies. Moved by the pain his community experienced, he has devoted a significant part of his career to breast cancer research, and it is something he has managed to observe in great detail during his first months in Lexington.

Though he has loved his time in Kentucky so far, he said he misses his family back in Ethiopia and is hoping his wife and three children can visit soon. Aside from the southern hospitality, Hailu said he loves the food in the Bluegrass and his favorite dish is grilled chicken and French fries.

When asked how he found his passion in pathology and cancer research, Hailu said it was as simple as wanting to help his home country with a problem that was taking many lives – breast cancer. As an expert in his field, Hailu offered a piece of advice to students who are interested in scientific research, “Look around and find the problem. The problem is something experienced largely by your community. Base your research on the problem and find the solution to help and empower your community.”


Next Steps