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Jeffrey N. Weitzel, MD
Director, Clinical Cancer Genetics Program
Professor of Oncology and Population Sciences
Beckman Research Institute, City of Hope
Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation
Goal: To address disparities in access to genetic screening and breast cancer prevention in Latin America.
Impact: Dr. Weitzel’s work is focused on identifying barriers that prevent Latin American people from undergoing breast cancer risk assessment and counseling. His efforts, which include training clinicians to conduct genetic screening in underserved areas, could potentially save the lives of many women at risk of breast cancer in Latin America.
What’s next: He and his colleagues will continue to train clinicians in genetic cancer risk assessment and expand access to genetic testing and risk-reduction surgery for Latin American women.
While genetic testing and counseling for breast cancer has been available in the US for many years, accessing these services in Latin America is more challenging due to limited resources. This disparity is particularly concerning because hereditary breast cancer has been found to be a serious problem in these groups of women. Dr. Weitzel is addressing this issue by expanding the number of BRCA mutations detected by his low-cost genetic screening panel, implementing genetic cancer risk assessment, and training clinicians in the region so that women at the highest risk of breast cancer can be identified and receive the preventive care they need
Full Research Summary
Research area: Expanding access to genetic screening and breast cancer prevention in Latin America.
Impact: Breast cancer risk reduction includes genetic cancer risk assessment. However, accessing genetic counseling, detecting high-risk individuals, and offering treatment requires an infrastructure that support public access to both genetic testing and prophylactic surgery. Access to these services is limited in Latin America. Dr. Weitzel and his colleagues are addressing this need by providing necessary infrastructure for genetic counseling in Latin America. They aim to show that cancer care can reach beyond limited resources, and that low- and middle-income countries can benefit from genetic screening and lifesaving interventions in high-risk individuals.
Current investigation: Dr. Weitzel and his international colleagues are addressing breast cancer treatment and prevention disparities across the age spectrum, and across the Americas, by training clinicians and increasing implementation of genetic risk assessment and preventive services.
What he’s learned so far: Dr. Weitzel’s studies have benefited more than 1,500 women in the past year alone, and through genetic cancer risk assessment they have detected over 150 new high-risk families, including BRCA mutation carriers. He and his team developed a 115 mutation BRCA panel called HISPANEL to detect recurrent BRCA mutations for 20% of the cost of commercial BRCA sequencing. He and his team have also observed improved uptake of preventive measures such as risk reduction surgeries in areas where they have implemented genetic screening services.
What’s next: He and his colleagues will continue their efforts to enhance the capacity of genetic cancer risk assessment through clinician training and increased infrastructure, monitor follow-up care, and expand the spectrum of breast cancer genes being studied and tested by the HISPANEL .
Dr. Weitzel is the recipient of the BCRF research professorship award in disparities from Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation.
Jeffrey N. Weitzel, MD is Chief of the Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics and the Cancer Screening & Prevention Program at the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte, California. Dr. Weitzel is Board Certified in clinical genetics and medical oncology, and he is a Professor of Oncology and Population Sciences at the City of Hope. At the vanguard of personalized medicine, Dr. Weitzel’s multidisciplinary clinical, research, and training programs emphasize translational research in genomic cancer risk assessment, chemoprevention, targeted therapy, clinical and psychosocial outcomes, genetic epidemiology and health services research in underserved minorities, and hereditary cancer in Latin America. He is a member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the NCCN Genetics/Familial Risk Assessment practice guidelines committee. Dr. Weitzel is the principal investigator for the City of Hope Cancer Genetics Education Program and for the Clinical Cancer Genetics Community Research Network, which are funded by the National Cancer Institute.