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In recognition of decades of steadfast efforts in support of the career advancement of women in oncology, Arlene A. Forastiere, MD has been named the first recipient of the Remarkable Mentor to Women in Oncology Award from the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group (ECOG-ACRIN). Throughout her notable and pioneering academic career in oncology, women have sought Dr. Forastiere's scientific guidance and advice about navigating their careers—often in the face of bias and exclusion.
Group Co-Chairs Peter O'Dwyer, MD, and Mitchell Schnall, MD, PhD, together with Barbara A. Burtness, MD, Chair of the Task Force on Advancement for Women, announced the award on May 4 during the General Session of the Spring 2023 Group Meeting in Chicago. Following input from members of the task force, ECOG-ACRIN initiated this professional honor to recognize a member for sustained commitment to developing women’s careers in cancer medicine and advancing women investigators in the Group.
Dr. Forastiere is a Professor of Oncology, Head and Neck Surgery, Radiation Oncology, and Molecular Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. She has been a member of ECOG-ACRIN for many decades, serving as Chair of the Head and Neck Cancer Committee from 1993-2006.
As part of the honor, Dr. Forastiere spoke at the General Session, reflecting upon how she came to mentorship early in her career—and maintained that focus.
“Mentoring women and providing them with opportunities to advance their careers and become the leaders of today has been a central focus of my career—and I have absolutely loved doing it,” she said. “I receive this award not just as recognition of my efforts but as a validation of the importance of mentoring women in oncology. It is absolutely critical for us.”
Notably, head and neck cancer is an area in which women are more likely to serve as lead author of a clinical trial results publication, with 39.1% having a first or last author who is a woman (Ludmir et al. JAMA Oncol. August 2019). This rate is higher than breast cancer (34.3%)—and far exceeds lung cancer (12.6%), hematologic malignancies (9.3%), gastrointestinal cancer (7.9%), and genitourinary cancer (7.2%). Dr. Forastiere is one individual who has contributed significantly to this high inclusion rate.
Dr. Forastiere’s careful curation of mentees within ECOG-ACRIN, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Michigan, and nationally has profoundly impacted the success and representation of multiple women who are leaders in oncology today. Some of her distinguished mentees include:
- Mary Y. Armanios, MD (Professor at Johns Hopkins University)
- Barbara A. Burtness, MD (Professor at Yale University)
- Christine H. Chung, MD (Department Chair, H. Lee Moffit Cancer Center)
- Arati S. Desai, MD (Associate Professor at University of Pennsylvania)
- Jill Gilbert, MD (Professor at Vanderbilt University)
- Maura L. Gillison, MD (Professor at The University of Texas)
- Elizabeth I. Heath, MD (Professor at Wayne State University)
- Elizabeth M. Jaffe, MD (Professor at Johns Hopkins University)
- Kimberly Lee, MD (Assistant Member, Breast Program, at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center)
- Shanthi Marur, MBBS, MD (Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins University)
- Ranee Mehra, MD (Professor at University of Maryland)
- Barbara A. Murphy, MD (Professor at Vanderbilt University)
- Susan G. Urba, MD (Professor at University of Michigan)
Dr. Forastiere graduated from medical school in 1975, with women making up 10% of her class. She obtained her medical degree from New York Medical College, was an intern at Hartford Hospital, and completed her residency training at Albert Einstein and the University of Connecticut. Her focus on upper aerodigestive tract malignancies began during hematology/oncology training at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, followed by a position at the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
As a young faculty member at the University of Michigan, she began a series of pivotal trials in head and neck cancer and esophageal cancer management at her institution and through her engagement with the SWOG Cancer Research Network and NRG Oncology. Her commitment to developing the careers of her junior colleagues was apparent already at this early stage of her career, with mentees from that time in the top ranks of oncology today. Later, she moved to Johns Hopkins University.
In 2003, Dr. Forastiere emerged as the leading figure in head and neck oncology and multidisciplinary management internationally in the wake of her leadership of an essential intergroup trial focused on larynx preservation. The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
For several decades, she chaired the ECOG-ACRIN Head and Neck Cancer Committee, moving the committee into the era of targeted therapy and molecular characterization of malignancies. For example, she led the integration of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) inhibition and other targeted therapies with the standard of care.
She built strong scientific links between the committee, the NCI Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPOREs), and basic research communities. She served as Project Co-Leader on the Johns Hopkins Head and Neck SPORE and led many trials advancing multi-modality care of head and neck and esophageal cancer. She was the Johns Hopkins principal investigator to ECOG-ACRIN from 1993-2016.
ECOG-ACRIN salutes Dr. Forastiere for consistently lending her experience and expertise to more fully open pathways for advancement in academic medicine to women.
Barbara A. Burtness, MD (Yale University) contributed to this story.