Judith Lightsey, M.D.: Lighting the way for patients

 

Chemotherapy, radiation, surgery … sometimes even the toughest patients are frightened by these words. But Judith Lightsey, M.D., makes sure all her patients know that aggressive treatment is the best way to survive breast cancer.

“It is a multimodality treatment,” said Lightsey, an assistant professor of radiation oncology in the UF College of Medicine. “Depending on the case, you often get the best results from a combination of therapies.”

Lightsey, a member of the UF Shands Cancer Center, has been on the UF faculty since 2004. She helped usher in the Intrabeam system, a device that permits doctors to offer a onetime dose of radiation to the breast during surgery, effectively allowing patients to undergo two facets of treatment at once. About 75 patients have been treated using the machine since November 2010, Lightsey said.

“We try to get the word out to the local community but we also see a lot of patients from outside the area,” she said. “A lot of them find out about Intrabeam on the Internet.”

She’s also involved in new studies looking the use of radiotherapy to treat metastatic cancer.

But treating patients who have developed cancer — she also treats lymphoma and lung cancer — is not her only focus. She aims to help prevent and catch it early, too.

When speaking to patients and women in the community, she stresses the importance of regular mammograms, which are still the most effective screening tool for breast cancer, she says.

She also has dedicated time throughout her career to raising awareness about the racial disparities in breast cancer. Although there is a higher incidence of the disease in white women, the survival rate is 12 percent lower in African American women.

She encourages women to be their own advocates, something breast cancer patients often do well, she said.

“Breast cancer patients are unique,” she said. “They tend to be very knowledgeable patients, and they keep us on our toes.” — April Frawley Birdwell

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