Antonio C. Wolff, MD, FACP, FASCO
Professor of Oncology
Member, Breast Cancer Program at The Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center
Like many of his colleagues, Dr. Wolff dedicates his professional time both to caring for breast cancer patients and solving the mysteries that they present. “It is such a nice combination to be a doctor but also to be at the forefront of discussions with other researchers about what will influence care in the future, particularly in an environment like Hopkins, where we have such a strong multidisciplinary team,” Dr. Wolff says.
During the fourteen-plus years that he has been a part of Hopkins’ medical team, the challenges Dr. Wolff’s patients face in the clinic have informed the questions he brings to the laboratory and to collaborators elsewhere working with him to improve the quality of breast cancer care. Some of those inquiries in which he has focused over the years include risk assessment, early detection, improved biomarkers as predictors of treatment benefit, and cancer survivorship. From micro-level investigations with fellow researchers at Hopkins to national initiatives in which he is either leading or participating, Dr. Wolff is making inroads in each of these areas of expertise.
While so many areas of breast cancer research require urgent attention, Dr. Wolff currently is focusing much of his attention on improving the accuracy of routine tests that identify the specific subtype of breast cancer in newly diagnosed patients.
“That definition of the breast cancer subtype becomes the most critical determinant of decisions about what treatment patients should be offered in addition to surgery and possible radiation,” Dr. Wolff explains. And yet, in about 10 percent of all cases, the test results are wrong. Dr. Wolff has worked with leaders of the American Society of Clinical Oncologists and the College of American Pathologists to change that. “The efforts I have been a part of, at a national level, have impacted and improved the quality of biomarker testing in patients diagnosed with breast cancer,” Dr. Wolff says.
Locally, Dr. Wolff is examining with Hopkins researchers Sara Sukumar and Ben Ho Park ways to develop improved biomarkers to measure, in blood, the presence or absence of specific gene mutations that indicate the presence and type of cancer. These biomarkers would be used in patients who had early stage breast cancer or whose cancer has spread to other sites (metastases). “It is critical for us to ensure that we give the right treatment to the right patient, minimizing the risk of unnecessary treatment and the development of side effects that could affect their quality of life,” Dr. Wolff says.
Survivorship occupies a prominent place in Dr. Wolff’s breast cancer efforts. As research advances allow an increasing number of patients to live beyond breast cancer and focus on life after the disease, survivorship becomes a critical topic. That’s why Dr. Wolff helped to spearhead the Johns Hopkins Survivorship Program, which serves as a broad-based educational resource for survivors, their families, and non-cancer physicians.
“There’s no question that breast cancer is scary, but in many cases it [the disease] is not what matters in the long run,” Dr. Wolff says.