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July 28, 2003

Women's Health Expert To Head UConn Cancer Center

Dr. Carolyn D. Runowicz, a nationally prominent expert in gynecologic cancers and women's health, will become director of the UConn Health Center's Cancer Center in the fall.

She is currently a professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and vice-chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City.

Image: Dr. Carolyn Runowicz, '73 (CLAS)

Dr. Carolyn Runowicz, '73 (CLAS)

Dr. Runowicz joins the Health Center faculty on Oct. 1. She will also serve as director of women's health services and will practice medicine at the UConn Cancer Center. "Cancer care and research have long been priority areas at the Health Center," says Dr. Peter J. Deckers, the Health Center's executive vice president for health affairs, who recruited Runowicz. "Under the direction of a nationally established leader like Dr. Runowicz, all aspects of the Health Center's cancer program will soar - including clinical services, research, and education."

Dr. Deckers is a surgeon with the UConn Cancer Center and is active with many national cancer organizations.

"I'm confident our patients, as well as our researchers, students, residents, and fellow faculty, will benefit from Dr. Runowicz's leadership," he adds.

A Willimantic native, Runowicz is a 1973 graduate of the University of Connecticut and a 2002 recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award. She said her decision to join the Health Center faculty was partly driven by a desire to return to her roots and partly by the special opportunity to help build upon the existing strengths of the Health Center's cancer program.

"I knew of the solid basic science program at the Health Center," she says, "and its need for a leader with clinical skills and a vision for the future."

Runowicz says her vision for the UConn Cancer Center is clear. "Ultimately, I'd like to develop a strong center with enough outstanding oncologists, translational, and basic science researchers, as well as a cancer control program, to become a National Cancer Institutes designated cancer center," she says. National Cancer Institutes designated centers are the nation's most elite cancer centers and participate in broad-based, interdisciplinary programs in cancer research.

"I'm intrigued by the challenge of expanding existing clinical programs at the Health Center, and integrating those services with basic research," she says. "By translating the work done in the laboratory to the bedside, the Health Center is poised to make significant progress in the prevention, early detection, and cure of cancer."

Cancer care is one of the Health Center's four signature programs, which emphasize the integration of research and clinical care.

Kevin Kelly, executive director of the Health Center's signature programs, says recruiting a leader of Dr. Runowicz's national stature and extensive experience in patient care, research, and academics, is a major milestone for the Health Center's cancer program.

Since 2000, cancer care and supporting research initiatives such as immunology and molecular medicine have been cornerstones of the Health Center's cancer program.

"The future of the cancer program is linked to our ability to translate research discoveries into new advances in patient care," says Kelly. "Under Dr. Runowicz's leadership, we anticipate enormous growth in these areas."

Runowicz has had a highly successful professional career. In addition to her positions with St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, she has held academic positions at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where she was professor and director of the division of gynecologic oncology. She has also served as director of gynecologic oncology research for the women's health service line of Continuum Health Partners in New York City.

She also has maintained a busy practice in gynecologic oncology in New York, seeing patients at Montefiore Medical Center, St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, and Beth Israel Medical Center.

Runowicz is active with several leading national medical societies and organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the National Cancer Institute, and the American Society of Clinical Oncology. She was the first woman to become president of the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists, and is currently on the national board of the American Cancer Society and has been chair of the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project's (NSABP) Gynecologic Committee since 1994.

Runowicz has been involved with research studies on ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, epithelial cancer, and other topics. She has written more than 100 contributions to medical literature, including scientific abstracts and textbook chapters, and is widely published in scholarly journals including the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Journal of Clinical Oncology, and Cancer. She also is a reviewer, charged with scrutinizing other researchers' publications for many prestigious medical journals including the New England Journal of Medicine and Cancer.

At the UConn Cancer Center, Runowicz joins a cadre of surgeons, physicians, caregivers, and researchers involved with a comprehensive range of cancer services and clinical studies. This includes all aspects of breast health and breast cancer services, gynecologic oncology, head and neck cancer, endocrine cancers, radiation oncology, hematology-oncology, melanoma services, surgical oncology, reconstructive surgery.

New research initiatives at the Health Center include novel approaches to cancer care, such as the study of heat shock protein vaccines led by Pramod Srivastava, and the molecular medicine program that includes work on bone tumors and colon cancer.

Runowicz is an outspoken advocate for women's health and lectures extensively on issues such as gynecologic cancers, menopause management, and breast cancer. She has candidly shared insights from her own battle with breast cancer in 1992, both in speaking appearances and in her 1995 book, To Be Alive: A Woman's Guide to a Full Life After Cancer.

"I was too much of a public figure not to share my personal story about breast cancer, and I hoped it would empower other patients," she says. "(As a result of my experience), I hope I am even more compassionate as a physician and have a better understanding of what my patients are going through. It's not a walk in the park."

Runowicz is also co-author of The Menopause Book: A Guide to Women's Health After 40, published in 1994 with her husband, Dr. Sheldon Cherry, a prominent New York City gynecologist, and Women and Cancer: A Thorough and Compassionate Resource for Patients and Their Families, published in 1999 with co-author Jeanne Petrek. A fourth book, The Cancer Prevention Breakthrough, is in progress.

Runowicz is a graduate of Thomas Jefferson Medical College and trained in obstetrics and gynecology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Medical Center. She was a Galloway Fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and also underwent fellowship training in gynecologic oncology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Medical Center.