Bayhealth breast surgeon honored for dedication

Bayhealth staff and their guests attend the Komen Philadelphia Pink Tie Ball 2017, where Bayhealth Cancer Institute and Breast Surgeon Wendy S. Newell, MD, FACS, were recently honored for their exceptional contributions in the fight to end breast cancer in Delaware. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — For more than two decades, Dr. Wendy Newell has been practicing medicine in the Dover area and treating breast cancer patients at the Bayhealth Cancer Institute. Recently, she was honored for her years of dedication fighting the disease when she was presented the 2017 Light of Life Award by the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

The Light of Life award is designed to recognize physicians who have gone above and beyond in their fight to end breast cancer over the years. The award was given to Dr. Newell at the Pink Tie Ball held by the foundation’s Philadelphia chapter.

Dr. Newell and her colleagues in the Bayhealth Cancer Institute also received the 2017 Beacon of Hope Award for

Dr. Newell was chosen as the recipient of the Light of Life Award, which recognizes physicians who have gone above and beyond in their fight to end breast cancer over the years. (Submitted photo)

the institute’s “exceptional devotion to Komen Philadelphia and its mission and the communities it serves.” The Susan G. Komen Foundation is the largest breast cancer organization in the United States.

“I was so touched that a national organization would reach out to our small town of Dover and honor me,” Dr. Newell said. “It was such a great honor to be recognized for caring for my patients.”

Dr. Newell received her medical degree from the School of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. After graduating from medical school and completing her residency, she said she initially thought she would become a primary care physician and was not interested in specializing in any one area.

“I came out of residency and thought I would do it all,” she said.

When she came to Dover, her plans changed.

“Dover was the largest area I was looking at and nobody in Dover specialized in breast care,” she said.

“When I first started practicing here, women kept coming to me with breast issues, and it became clear to me that I needed to concentrate on that.”

Even in the late 1990s, Dr. Newell said significant changes were taking place for physicians who were specializing in certain fields of medicine. For breast cancer, in particular, she said one example of this change was that physicians and not just surgeons were performing biopsies on tumors.

“You could see how taking care of breast cancer patients was changing so rapidly,” she said. “That became very important to me. In the first 10 years, my practice became more concentrated.”

Today, the majority of her practice, about 80 percent, is concentrated in the area of breast cancer and breast health. Dr. Newell still does perform some surgeries, including procedures to treat hernias, but most of her days are spent treating patients with breast health issues.

Cancer care: Then and now

In the 20-plus years that Dr. Newell has been practicing medicine she’s seen a lot of changes in how breast cancer is treated, particularly when it comes to options available to patients.

In the 1990s, patients diagnosed with breast cancer typically only had one option — mastectomies. Today, the care is more individualized and patients have choices when it comes to surgery to remove tumors.

“Now you can remove just a few lymph nodes and be successful,” Dr. Newell said. “Patients’ original choices were surgery and chemotherapy, and now, you can do less on the surgical end.”

Dr. Newell said she has also seen drastic changes in how patients receive chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer tumors, and these changes have improved the overall experience for those diagnosed with the disease. One example is the time period for radiation therapy.

“Radiation is more direct now. We’ve gone from a six-week treatment to a treatment that lasts five days,” she said.

Today, when a patient is diagnosed with breast cancer, doctors can provide a treatment plan that is tailored to that patient’s specific case, Dr. Newell said.

“Now, we study the biology of that woman’s cancer. We don’t just put people in those broad groups,” she said. “We’ve seen that all the breast cancer research is changing the face of treatment.”

Raising awareness

One of Dr. Newell’s most impactful efforts has centered on raising awareness about breast cancer in the Dover community. When she first started concentrating on breast health, Dr. Newell said she frequently met people in the area who had limited access to preventive care.

“We saw populations of people who didn’t have access to mammograms or other services,” she said.

While programs offering free screenings did exist, Dr. Newell said there were often age caps and other limitations that kept women and men from receiving the care they needed.

When she realized how widespread that problem was, Dr. Newell reached out to Bayhealth and asked if she and others in the cancer institute could create a campaign aimed at educating the public. At the time, Dr. Newell suggested Bayhealth sell T-shirts and split the money raised from the sale of those shirts with the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition. The campaign quickly gained sponsorships and community support.

In 2017, Bayhealth held its 12th annual Go Pink campaign. The awareness event includes the sale of the T-shirts plus free health screenings and mammograms, a health fair, and other educational tools provided to members of the community free of charge.

“It’s a huge event that I think our area really needed,” said Dr. Newell.

The benefits of the Go Pink campaign were evident from the start.

“In the first year, at least five people came in who had a lump,” she said.

While not all of those cases resulted in breast cancer diagnoses, Dr. Newell said the Go Pink screenings gave those patients with lumps the answers they needed but couldn’t get because of lack of health insurance or other barriers.

“By just having a community event, they knew they could go there,” she said.

A cure for all

Today, breast cancer has one of the highest survival rates of all cancers, and this achievement is due in large part to increased access to screenings, mammograms and genetic testing. Celebrities like Angelina Jolie have brought the disease into the spotlight and helped spread awareness of the options available to patients with a genetic susceptibility to breast cancer.

Dr. Newell said she believes this increased access to care and prevention is what will help physicians one day be able to cure all breast cancer patients.

“At the national meeting [of breast cancer physicians], they like to say, “Aren’t we there?” when talking about a cure,” she said. “We are at the point where we can cure most women, but I think the answer to the question of when we will see a cure for all women starts with prevention. It’s access to care; it’s early detection.”

Organizations like the Susan G. Komen Foundation have made it possible for health-care providers like Dr. Newell and Bayhealth to offer services, including free health screenings and mammograms, to the community.

“Komen has been a big help in assisting Bayhealth with providing preventive options for patients,” she said.

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