Oncology

Lawrence D. Wagman

City of Hope National Medical Center

Cancer treatments have traditionally been a horrendous ordeal for patients, with chemotherapy and radiation treatments taking severe tolls. As chairman of the surgery division at City of Hope in Duarte, Dr. Lawrence Wagman is at the forefront of those hoping to change that.

Recently, Wagman was City of Hope's principal investigator for the national tamoxifen trial that studied the efficacy of the drug in the prevention of breast cancer.

"This is the first time a relatively safe drug can be taken with a minimum amount of side effects," he says. "It makes such a dramatic difference in a disease that you could almost call epidemic 180,000 women in this country get breast cancer every year. Even if we could reduce it by 10 percent, 18,000 people is a real number."

Two months ago, Wagman started the clinical trial that will compare tamoxifen with raloxifene, another drug that has shown promising results in breast cancer treatment.

Wagman came to City of Hope 14 years ago because it offered him an opportunity to do research on cancer growth, as well as focus on surgical oncology. He specializes in treating cancers of the head, neck, liver and breast, performing surgery for upwards of 10 hours a day on some days.

"I do a lot of liver surgery it's one of the operations that still carries a chance of mortality during the procedure," he says. "There aren't a lot of operations like that anymore. The cancers we operate on in the head and neck areas are also very complex because there are so many critical structures in such a small area."

His former research focused on how surface receptors on cancer cells change how the tumor responds to drug therapy. In recent years, Wagman's lab time has been replaced with the duties that come as chairman of the surgery division.

"I would say it's administrative work, but it's so much bigger than that," Wagman says. "It's an opportunity to influence how cancer care is delivered."

To help deal with the stress of his job, Dr. Wagman participates in what he considers to be a nice, relaxing hobby: triathlons.

"Up near Paso Robles there's a very famous triathlon named Wildflower," says Wagman, 47. "I have a friend who is a patient up there and I go to his house, hang out and do the race. It's a great time to blend work and fun."

Ann Donahue

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