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Bringing Hope to Cancer Patients

Nov 15, 2021, 16:34 PM by Ed Baum

Oncologists are physicians who specialize in diagnosing and treating cancer. These specialists stay up to date about new research and findings so they can help people navigate treatment options, showing compassion and care to their patients and patients’ families. Ridley-Tree Cancer Center’s Maíra Campos, MD, MPH treats patients with all types of cancer, with a special interest in breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers.

Before completing her fellowship in hematology/oncology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Dr.

Dr. Maira Campos

Campos completed medical school in Brazil, where she was born and raised. “I was the first person from my family to have access to that kind of education,” she says. “I am grateful to have been given opportunities, including to engage in clinical trials during my second year of medical school. We were running our own clinical trials under the mentorship of Dr. Auro del Giglio and his team. The results of our trials were published in international journals while we were still medical students. That helped us see that we can have an impact in the world with the resources that we are given.”

In her fourth year of medical school, Campos was invited to present one of her papers at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting in Chicago. ASCO is a professional organization representing physicians of all oncology subspecialties who care for people with cancer. Her experience presenting at ASCO motivated her to uproot from her native homeland. At age 24, she sold her car and moved to the United States to complete an observership at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. She held a research position for a year and a half at the University of Miami.

During her residency at University of Miami, Campos volunteered her time and medical expertise to help victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. “We provided care for as many as fifty patients per day in ten-hour shifts,” she shares. “The UN was delivering food by helicopter. It was the most humbling experience I’ve ever had in my life.”

Her volunteer work in Haiti was a continuation of a personal practice of charity and compassion. For ten years, from high school to the end of medical school, she volunteered to help people in poor local communities. “I would call companies and ask them to donate medications that were desperately needed by people living in the shantytowns of São Paulo,” she says. “We distributed medicine, did cancer screenings and gave free talks in the community to educate people about cancer prevention. It was my first experience working with patients, and it revealed to me that you become family with patients as an oncologist.”

Dr. Campos joins Ridley-Tree Cancer Center with a passion for women’s health. She intends to leverage her expertise in breast cancer research to expand clinical trials and capabilities in Santa Barbara County. She also believes patients referred to Ridley-Tree oncologists benefit from a team approach from the very beginning of their care. “Patients meet their surgeon, oncologist and radiation specialist at the outset of treatment and get an overview of the plan for their care and treatment,” she explains. “Working as a multidisciplinary team from the beginning of a patient’s case, we are able to provide better communication and better care.” Weekly conferences are held where all cases are discussed among the specialists. They have conversations with patients about treatment options and therapies.

The field of oncology has recently benefitted from advances and innovations that improve diagnostics and treatment of cancer. One such development is a diagnostic procedure for early-stage breast cancer called Oncotype DX, which assesses gene expressions of known cancer-related genes to predict how likely breast cancer is to recur after treatment. “The Oncotype DX test provides information that can lead to more personalized treatment,” Dr. Campos explains. “It provides us with a better understanding of breast cancer so we may provide less aggressive treatment or therapy for patients who would truly benefit from it.”

Patients with certain types of cancer may benefit from a new procedure called immunotherapy, also known as immuno-oncology. Immunotherapy stimulates the immune system to improve its natural ability to fight cancer. “Moving forward, treatments such as immunotherapy enable us to provide cancer treatments that are more personalized for each tumor type and its characteristics instead of a one-size-fits-all approach such as chemotherapy,” Dr. Campos explains.

Walking the Path With Patients

“Advances in medical science enable us to walk the path with our patients to allow them to enjoy a quality of life and increased survival rates,” Dr. Campos says. “No matter what stage of cancer a patient has, when they walk through the door of our cancer center they can feel that they have a family here and are part of a team that they can relate to.”

Fluency in Spanish and Portuguese helps Dr. Campos relate directly with many of her patients for whom English is not their native language. “Oncology often involves difficult and complex discussions that are hard to accomplish through a translator,” she says. “Cultural nuance can be lost. My ability to communicate with Hispanic and Latino patients in their native language helps them feel loved and cared for. They are treated with dignity here. All people deserve the best cancer care no matter their circumstances or financial resources. From the primary care doctors working hard on prevention, to our specialty care, I am always very impressed with the high quality of care and focus on creating a healthier community.”

“It is gratifying to be able to walk this path where we are addressing the whole person,” Dr. Campos summarizes. “Cancer patients need time to talk about their life, not rushed through a fifteen-minute office visit. As a doctor, you can never lose track of the fact that you have a human being in front of you. I entered this profession because I love helping people feel better physically and emotionally. That’s why I love what I do.”