The ripple effect

Joanne Jeter, MD, never backs down from a challenge. In fact, she seeks out the toughest cases, because they often lead to the biggest breakthroughs.

Dr. Jeter is an assistant professor of clinical medicine and an associate member of the UACC’s Cancer Prevention and Control program. She primarily treats breast cancer and melanoma patients, but she balances her work as a clinician with research efforts focused mainly on patients with the highest risk to develop cancer in their lifetimes.

“The most efficient way to stop the spread of cancer is to prevent it from happening in the first place,” Dr. Jeter said.

Alongside her colleagues in the UACC’s High Risk Cancer Genetics Clinic, Dr. Jeter aims to identify patients at high risk for cancer due to strong family history or positive genetic test results and to incorporate prevention strategies to reduce cancer risks. As a medical oncologist, Dr. Jeter can often bring her research findings directly to her patients.

• Read more about the UACC's High-Risk Cancer Genetics Clinic

“These discoveries can impact multiple generations, so it’s important for these patients to be as informed as possible to present them with the best options for personalized care,” Dr. Jeter said.

How do Dr. Jeter and her colleagues make these discoveries? They tackle the most rare, hardest-to-understand diseases to understand the biology that drives these cancers.

Dr. Jeter is currently collaborating with Tucson-area retinal specialist Cameron Javid, MD; interventional radiologist Paola Devis, MD; surgeon Tun Jie, MD; and UACC Department Head of Radiation Oncology, Baldassarre “Dino” Stea, MD, PhD, FASTRO, to break down the biological mechanisms that drive ocular melanoma.

“This is a very rare disease that differs biologically from the more common cases of melanoma that can develop on a person’s skin,” Dr. Jeter said. “But it is a dangerous disease that requires specialization for proper treatment.”

These “orphaned diseases,” as Dr. Jeter calls them, give researchers an opportunity to develop expertise in a given area, while leading to new drug discoveries that can have many different applications beyond the original research.

“There are ripple effects that come from researching these diseases and finding previously undiscovered genetic mutations that may lead to even more breakthroughs down the road,” Dr. Jeter said.

The work currently being done by Dr. Jeter and her colleagues isn’t easy, but it is necessary in order to achieve the goal of a cancer-free future.

-Nick Prevenas (May 27, 2014)