Three Women Who Changed Cancer Care

March 29, 2018

Despite growing numbers of women joining science, technology, engineering, and mathematics professions, the field of oncology is still a male-dominated one.

According to the latest American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) survey, for example, women made up fewer than 30 percent of the overall oncologist workforce.

That’s why during this Women’s History Month, we recognize the valuable contributions these three women (and many others) have made to improve cancer care for patients and families.

Dr. Wright in lab.
Dr. Wright in the lab. Photo via Smith College. 

1. Dr. Jane C. Wright

Dr. Wright was famous for promoting chemotherapy as a viable treatment option for patients. Over the course of her career, she published over 100 academic papers on chemotherapy alone.

She was the only female founding member of ASCO in 1964 and was also the first woman to be elected president of the New York Cancer Society in 1971.  

On working in medicine, Dr. Wright eloquently said: “There’s lots of fun in exploring the unknown. There’s no greater thrill than in having an experiment turn out in such a way that you make a positive contribution.”

Dr. Franklin working at her microscope. Photo via National Institute of Health. 

2. Dr. Rosalind Franklin 

A British chemist, Dr. Franklin contributed to our understanding of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA), which cancer researchers study today to pinpoint the genetic origins and development of certain cancers.

In her research lab in 1952, a doctoral student named Raymond Gosling took the infamous “Photo 51,” the first known photograph that showed the iconic double helix of DNA. This contribution to science paved the way for Drs. James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962 for their work on the double helix.

Unfortunately, her achievements largely went unrecognized in her lifetime before she passed away of ovarian cancer in 1958.

Dr. Holland. Photo courtesy of The T.J. Martell Foundation.

3. Dr. Jimmie Holland

We previously wrote about Dr. Holland when she passed away last December, but her contributions to cancer care were so enormous we knew we had to include her in our list.

Dr. Holland worked with the founder of the Wellness Community, Dr. Harold Benjamin, to develop programs that focused on the “human side” of a cancer diagnosis, which is the heart of our work at CSC.

She also founded the American Psychosocial Oncology Society in 1980, which focused on the psychological effects of cancer on a patient. Nine years later in 1989, she was the senior editor of the very first textbook on the subject.

Her determination and passion to ensure that quality cancer care included caring for the entire person will continue to inspire and drive our mission- so that no one faces cancer alone!