Three women doctors standing together

Five Women Who Changed Cancer Care

March is Women’s History Month, and to celebrate, we’re honoring five trailblazing women physicians and scientists who changed the way we treat cancer.

Jane Cooke Wright

The daughter of Louis T. Wright, M.D., Jane Cooke Wright, M.D., followed in her famous father’s footsteps while blazing a trail all her own. Wright spent her career looking for ways to make chemotherapy more accessible at a time when it was considered an experimental treatment of last resort. Through her research, Wright helped shift the perception of chemotherapy and it’s uses, and today, chemotherapy is the standard treatment for most cancers.

After residencies at Bellevue Hospital and Harlem Hospital, Wright went to work at the Harlem Hospital Cancer Research Center, which her father founded. In 1955, she became the director of New York University Medical Center’s cancer chemotherapy research program. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed her to the President's Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer, and Stroke. Wright was also one of the founders of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and in 1971, she became the first woman elected president of the New York Cancer Society.

Audrey Evans

Audrey Evans, M.D. is a world-renowned pediatric oncologist, known as the “Mother of Neuroblastoma” because of her groundbreaking work in the field. Her efforts are credited with reducing the death rate of neuroblastoma by more than 50 percent.

After training at the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh, she completed her residency at the Royal Infirmary. Evans was the only woman in both programs. She earned a Fulbright Fellowship which brought her to Boston Children’s Hospital, after which she completed her training at Johns Hopkins. Evans went on to spend most of her career at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where she built and led pediatric oncology unit.

And Evans’ impact reaches far beyond her medical contributions. She is also a co-founder of the Ronald McDonald House Charities, which provides resources, support, and a home away from home for families who have to travel to get medical care for their children.

Susan Love

Susan Love, M.D., M.B.A., has dedicated her life to eradicating breast cancer. Love was one of only five women who were the top graduates from the SUNY Downstate Medical School in 1974, after which she completed her surgical training at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital. There, she founded the Faulkner Breast Center. Later, she also founded the Revlon UCLA Breast Center in Los Angeles.

Known as one of the “founding mothers” of the breast cancer advocacy movement, Love was one of the founders of the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC). And though she retired from the active practice of surgery in 1996, Love remains active in her research and advocacy efforts through her foundation, the Dr. Susan Love Foundation for Breast Cancer Research. She is also the author of Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book, which The New York Times called, “The Bible for women with breast cancer."

Mary-Claire King

Geneticist Mary-Claire King’s research has changed breast cancer care forever. King discovered the BRCA1 gene mutation and its connection to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Now, women can be tested for this gene, allowing them access to a fuller picture of their health and a better understanding of their cancer risk.

King studied mathematics at Carleton College in Minnesota, and she received her PhD in Genetics from the University of California at Berkeley. She completed her postdoctoral training at UC San Francisco. King then went to on become a professor at UC Berkeley until 1995. Since that time, she has been the American Cancer Society Professor of Medical Genetics and of Genome Sciences at the University of Washington.

Gertrude Belle Elion

Biochemist and pharmacologist Gertrude “Trudy” Belle Elion won the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for advancements she and her team made in the drug development process, known as rational drug design. Using this method, Elion and her colleagues helped synthesize and develop effective drugs for leukemia, malaria, herpes and others. Her research also led to the development of AZT, an early treatment for HIV and AIDS.

Born in New York City, Elion received a B.A. in chemistry from Hunter College. She went on to earn her M.S. from New York University, which she managed to complete while working as a high school teacher during the day. Elion spent most of her career with Burroughs Wellcome laboratories, where she and her team conduced the groundbreaking research she is famous for.