Through her experiences in medical oncology research and gynecologic cancers, Christina M. Annunziata, MD, PhD, believes that finding support is essential to foster women leaders in oncology. Dr. Annunziata currently directs clinical operations for the Women’s Malignancies Branch at the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Center for Cancer Research and serves as course director for their Women’s Malignancies Lecture Series. She is an associate editor for the international journal BMC Cancer and is a participating member in the Gynecologic Oncology Group, the American Association for Cancer Research, ASCO, and the Society of Gynecologic Oncology. As a dedicated mentor in her field, Dr. Annunziata continues to find ways to help others grow through encouragement and collaboration.
Prior to her work at the NCI Center for Cancer Research, Dr. Annunziata completed graduate school and residency training in internal medicine at Georgetown University Medical School. She then came to NCI for medical oncology training in the Medical Oncology Branch and joined the laboratory of Louis M. Staudt, MD, PhD, in the Metabolism Branch to investigate NF-kappaB signaling in multiple myeloma. She returned to the Medical Oncology Branch to extend her study of these molecular pathways in the ovarian cancer model, and she maintains her clinical focus in the translational clinical studies of ovarian cancer.
Did women in leadership roles inspire your path?
CA: Yes, there have been several influential women leaders in my career development. First, for my college senior thesis project at Georgetown University, I worked with Diane W. Taylor, PhD, to study the antibody immune response during a malaria infection. Dr. Taylor was an example of an accomplished female PhD researcher directing the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded research in an academic setting. During my medical oncology fellowship at NIH, I worked with Elise C. Kohn, MD, who introduced me to the field of gynecologic cancers, where my research focuses today. Dr. Kohn ran the Women’s Cancer Clinic in the intramural research program of NCI. She inspired me with her creative clinical trial designs, and her insight into the important questions for understanding gynecologic cancer biology and treatment.
What is the greatest hurdle facing women in oncology?
CA: A huge hurdle for women in oncology is the commitment to stay in research at the early stages of their careers. At that early stage, women have so many demands pulling them in other directions: salary, work hours, travel schedule, job location, etc. These considerations can cause women to move out of oncology research. Yet, it is the research that gives hope and new opportunities for our patients and provides the growth and recognition for women to become leaders in their field. Finding support—both logistically and financially—to stay in research at this critical juncture is essential to foster women leaders in oncology.
What can be done to create more parity among men and women in medicine?
CA: Parity can be achieved by providing additional support to women oncologists. This can come in the form of financial incentives, career guidance, and logistical support. Women would also benefit from individualized attention from leaders in their fields, as well as dedicated mentors acting as sounding boards both academically and personally. I have been lucky to have found colleagues and leaders throughout my career who have provided me with support and encouragement to continue my path.
Why is it important to fund the research of women scientists?
CA: Diversity is well known to benefit the field of biomedical research. The research of women scientists provides new perspectives in existing areas of study, thereby identifying new questions to investigate. Women researchers may be more attuned to problems that affect women with cancer or women caregivers who contribute to the quality of life for patients with cancer.
How do programs like WWCC elevate women in oncology?
CA: By funding the research of women oncologists, WWCC provides encouragement, recognition, and credibility at a critical point in their careers. The Young Investigator Award and the Career Development Award can be life-changing for these new physician-scientists. Additionally, through the Mentorship Awards, WWCC plays an important role in celebrating women leaders, especially those mentors who have enriched the careers of their trainees.
What’s your advice to women entering oncology today?
CA: Be persistent. Seek out mentors, role models, and sponsors who have the time and passion to invest in helping you advance in your career. And most of all, support your peers. These women will become your colleagues and collaborators as you help each other grow.
The Women Who Conquer Cancer series profiles some of the remarkable nominees for Conquer Cancer’s Women Who Conquer Cancer Mentorship Awards, which recognize role models and mentors to men and women training to be cancer clinicians, educators, or researchers.