Lois Ramondetta's connections to the Middle East are personal and professional. With a husband from the region, she travels frequently to the area and has grown to know and love the people and culture.
This fondness for the area and history of interaction made Ramondetta a natural fit for the scientific committee coordinating the Women's Cancer Conference held in late January in Beirut, Lebanon.
Although physician-scientists from several countries attended, including The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria, the event was jointly organized by The Naef K. Basile Cancer Institute at the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUB), King Hussein Cancer Center (KHCC) in Amman, Jordan and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
"We had a wonderful time and everyone got so much out of the event," she says. "Our hosts were amazing, the discussions were lively and the conference should lead to even more collaboration."
As an associate professor and gynecologic oncologist at MD Anderson, Ramondetta, M.D., has been actively involved in research regarding endometrial and cervical cancer, quality of life issues for cancer patients, and the effect of socio-cultural-economic factors on patients and their care. She brought those interests, as well as a desire to better understand how treatment differs in various regions, to the recent meeting.
"One of the most interesting discussions in the conference was the final session," Ramondetta says. "Members from AUB and KHCC debated the pros and cons of the use of the HPV vaccine in the region."
To Ramondetta, the discussion illustrated that although the Middle East is predominantly a traditional and conservative region, physicians recognize the probability of change.
Also of interest to Ramondetta, and a regional difference that made planning the conference challenging, was the disparate way physicians in the Middle East and elsewhere treat gynecologic cancers. While gynecologic cancers are normally addressed by gynecologic oncologists throughout much of the Western world, in the Middle East, they are often initially treated by a general surgeon or benign gynecologist, followed by a medical oncologist. Ramondetta sees this as an area to encourage collaborative research and training.
"We know women who receive care from a gynecologic oncologist do better during and after treatment," she says. "It would be great to work together to train specialists in this area."
Ramondetta's future collaborative efforts include working with Geri LoBiondo-Wood, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Nursing at MD Anderson, and colleagues at KHCC to develop a cooperative research project studying quality of life for cancer patients and the effect of different cultures.
"The fact that both AUB and KHCC are sister institutions only increases our ability to work together," Ramondetta explains. "These relationships are going to lead to a lot of opportunities in the future."
In the photo: Lois Ramondetta, M.D., and Ibrahim Nuhad, M.D., organizers of the Women's Cancer Conference.