By: All for the Breast Editorial Team, March 6, 2017

In 2016, the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade welcomed its third class of Avon Global Breast Cancer Clinical Scholars. Last year, 20 physicians from 14 countries trained at 10 leading breast cancer centers throughout the U.S. to learn state-of-the-art approaches to screening, diagnosing and treating breast cancer.  Upon returning home, Avon Global Scholars share their new skills with their colleagues and students to improve the quality of breast cancer care around the world.

The Avon Global Breast Cancer Clinical Scholars Program provided these physicians an opportunity to observe cutting-edge treatments in breast cancer care.  Through the reach of these exceptional providers, the program aims to reduce the unacceptably high mortality rates from breast cancer in many countries around the world. The Scholars spent four weeks studying breast cancer surgery, pathology, breast imaging (radiology), medical oncology, clinical trial design and community and public health.

Since returning to their home countries eight months ago, the scholars are making huge strides in improving breast cancer care in their communities. We caught up with three of the scholars, Vahagn, Mae and Sandra, to learn more about the important work they are doing to change the lives of breast cancer patients in Armenia, the Philippines and Brazil.

To learn more about the program, watch below:

What are they doing now?

Vahagn Hambardzumyan – Armenia 

Vahagn Hambardzumyan spent his fellowship in Los Angeles, California at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center under the mentorship of Dr. Armando Giuliano.

Vahagn is among the youngest scholars the Avon Global Scholars program has ever hosted – and is one that will most likely change the world.  He is a breast surgeon by training and wants to ensure that his patients have access to as much information as possible about breast cancer prevention and care.

Throughout the world, many providers remove the entire breast after a cancer diagnosis – a major surgery that can lead to life-long complications.  At Cedars-Sinai, Vahagn observed a number of breast preservation procedures which can greatly improve the quality of life for breast cancer survivors.  Motivated to change the conversation about surgical treatment, Vahagn recently created the Armenian Society of Surgical Oncologists to connect leaders in the field of oncology to foster conversations around standard of care techniques.

Vahagn also saw that patients at Cedars-Sinai had a number of resources available to them to help understand more about breast cancer prevention, screening and treatment.  He is currently developing a website in Armenian and Russian so that women in Armenia, Russia and Georgia are able to access critical education materials in their native language.

Next year, Vahagn will be returning to the U.S. to work with the Chair of Avon Breast Cancer Crusade’s Scientific Advisory Board, Dr. Paul Goss of Massachusetts General Hospital.  During this fellowship, Vahagn will gain further skills to bring back to Armenia to advance the country’s breast cancer care.

 Mae de Guzman – Philippines

Mae de Guzman’s fellowship was in Atlanta, Georgia at Emory University Grady Memorial Hospital under the mentorship of Dr. Sheryl Gabram.

Mae is a seasoned surgeon from the Philippines – she practices in a province where breast health care is available but is poorly accessed by patients due to limited awareness, fear and cost of care. In this region of the country, there is a lack of awareness and knowledge about breast health, as well as fear of a diagnosis.  Given these barriers to care, many of Mae’s patients do not seek services until their breast cancer is advanced and treatment options are limited.

Mae’s experience at Emory University had a huge impact on her practice.  She observed the full continuum of breast health care provided at a comprehensive breast health center, specifically patient navigation.  Drawing from this experience, Mae is now educating the patients she treats, helping them to understand their condition and provide guidance on treatment – including behavior changes that can improve a patient’s quality of life.  She is also keeping in touch with patients who have to travel to other parts of the country for care, ensuring that there is no loss to follow-up.

Word spread in the provider community that Mae had returned from the Avon Global Scholars program and the number of consultations and referrals she received spiked significantly.

Learn more about Mae’s journey here.

Sandra Gioia – Brazil

Sandra Gioia’s fellowship was in Boston, Massachusetts at Massachusetts General Hospital under the mentorship of Dr. Paul Goss.

In Brazil, a woman diagnosed with breast cancer must be referred to treatment within 60 days – it is the law.  As a breast surgeon, Sandra saw that patients were not receiving the care they needed in a timely manner and presented in surgery with advanced breast cancer.

Motivated to learn about comprehensive case management in the U.S., Sandra observed the patient navigation team at Massachusetts General Hospital.  She knew this model was a major need for breast cancer patients in Brazil.

In partnership with Dr. Goss and his team, Sandra recently published a paper entitled, “Patient navigation to improve access to breast cancer care in Brazil,” in the Journal of Global Oncology focused on the need for a patient navigation program in Brazil.

Now that she’s returned home, Sandra continues to work with her hospital in hopes of implementing a patient navigation program to help guide breast cancer patients through their care.

Learn more about Sandra’s journey here.

Thank you to Vahagn, Mae and Sandra and all of the other alumni Avon Global Scholars around the world. You all are making huge strides and changing the world of breast cancer – one patient at a time.