Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute Optimizes Care to Tackle Breast Cancer

By Abby Dudley / Photograph by Michael Fornataro
Dr. David S. Parda, Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute, Pittsburgh

Dr. David S. Parda, Chair, Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute

Dr. David Parda, Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute chair, meets me in the conference room that is changing the way doctors treat cancer. Around this table and others like it, oncologists across all different fields determine a single patient’s best course of action. “It’s all about multi-disciplinary care coordination and treatment optimization,” explains Dr. Parda, who heads the Allegheny Health Network (AHN) Cancer Institute and is integrating six primary departments.

This joint approach, used in all cancer cases at Allegheny General Hospital (AGH) and the other AHN hospitals, is particularly significant in cases of breast cancer. AGH is the clinical and operational base of the largest breast cancer study group in the world: the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP), a part of NRG Oncology. From some of the biggest and most successful clinical trials, NSABP collects research for all methodologies — surgery, chemo, hormonal therapy, radiation, and pathology imaging — to give a breast cancer patient their best chance at survival. And guess what? It’s working.

I’m given a statistic I didn’t expect: “Breast cancer cure rates are 90 percent or greater for the vast majority of cancer patients,” Dr. Parda says, to my pleasant surprise. Ninety. It’s a number that should be interpreted with caution, as it varies depending on the stage and individual patient, but it’s high all the same — about 50 percent higher than 40 years ago. Of course, Dr. Parda isn’t so surprised, confident in the collaborative efforts of oncologists. “It’s the incremental progress through our multi-disciplinary treatment approaches and clinical trials that has lead to that [number].”

But more doctors across more departments does not mean more treatment for any given patient. It actually means the opposite. “The most innovative thing in all of cancer treatment, and in breast cancer treatment as well,” Dr. Parda expounds, “is that we’re able to do fewer surgeries, and less radiation, chemo, and biologic treatments.”

“We want to get rid of cancer, but we want to keep the patients as much like their normal selves as possible,” Dr. Parda continues. “There’s been a lot of press about mastectomies and people who have inherited risk, like Angelina Jolie.”

The actress gained attention in 2013 when she elected to have a preventive double mastectomy after discovering that she carries BRCA1, a gene that greatly increases her risk for both breast and ovarian cancers. “The decision to have a mastectomy was not easy,” Jolie wrote for The New York Times, “but it is one I am very happy that I made.” Ultimately, her mastectomy exponentially decreased her risk, but her surgeries were expensive, lengthy, and invasive. They’re also not always options for similarly afflicted women.

Dr. Parda most frequently seeks other options. “There are circumstances where a mastectomy is appropriate,” he explains, “but, in the vast majority of patients, breast conservation therapy is appropriate and oftentimes the best option in terms of balancing out cancer control, toxicity treatment, and quality of life.” And beyond breast preservation, treatments like Accelerated Partial Breast Irradiation at AHN see patients being treated within one week — as opposed to seven — so that breast cancer is as unobtrusive to their lives as it can now be to their bodies. And minimizing breast cancer’s toll — on the body, in life — is why clinical trials continue to run; why doctors like Dr. Parda coordinate therapies, treatments, and surgeries; and why this month is dedicated to winning the battle against this pervasive disease.

→ Allegheny Health Network,

AHN optimizes patient outcome on three fronts:

Patient-Related Factors

  • 25 community clinics for patient comfort and well-being
  • A personalized treatment plan from 6 departments
  • Regular healthy living classes and events

Biologic-Specific Factors

  • 90% or greater breast cancer cure rates
  • Largest breast cancer study group in the world

Treatment-Specific Factors

  • Partnership with Johns Hopkins University for innovative treatment
  • A focus on non-invasive methods
  • Balance of standard community care and advancing treatments

Upcoming events:

October 6 — 7-8:30 p.m.
Cancer Support Group @ Jefferson Hospital, 412.622.1212

October 10 — 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Healing Journey, Allegheny Health Network’s celebration of cancer survivorship @ DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh — Cranberry, 412.770.1818
*Free to survivors + one guest

October 19 — 6-7:30 p.m.
Breast Cancer Support Group @ Wexford Health + Wellness Pavilion, 412.330.4469

October 24 — 9 a.m. 1 p.m.
Community Cancer Screening Event @ AHN Jefferson Hospital, 412.DOCTORS (362.8677)
*Open to all

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