Expert Spotlight: Dr. Maryam Lustberg

spotlights Jan 24, 2020

Dr. Maryam Lustberg is an Associate Professor at OSU. Her wide-ranging research at the OSUCCC – James encompasses both clinical work as a medical oncologist specializing in breast cancer at the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center, and as a member of the collaborative, multidisciplinary Cancer Control program.

It is rare to find a person who pursues interests in both science and humanities at an academic level, which is why Dr. Maryam Lustberg's double major in biochemistry and English at the University of Maryland was particularly unique. "I had a hard time picking a path between the two majors, but decided on medicine after volunteering in different settings and realizing the value of connecting with families and patients." She also counts how rapidly the field of oncology is evolving, and the new discoveries and research that are churned out so often, as reasons for deciding on premed.

Helping patients through some of the most difficult times in their lives invigorated Dr. Lustberg's decision to complete a research rotation at the NCI. When she rotated through breast oncology, however, it changed her career path forever.

Breast oncology touted a robust focus on quality of life care and treatment burdens, which allowed Dr. Lustberg to utilize her skills in internal medicine and survivorship research. "I immediately fell in love with the continuity of care that breast oncology offered. The treatments options are so diverse, there were a lot of discoveries going on as I entered the field (including immunotherapy), and I really connected with the patient population in particular." Dr. Lustberg recalls one patient, a young mom, who reinforced her love for the breast oncology demographic.

Now, Dr. Lustberg splits her time between seeing patients two days out of the week, and using the remaining time to tend to administrative and research responsibilities. "I do a lot of team science with lab-based researchers. Currently, we're looking at PTEN pathways as a connector with oxytocin, and how it impacts biologic markers and outcomes. What we know is well connected people with social support have better cancer outcomes, but the mechanism hasn’t been clearly identified."

Dr. Lustberg wishes there could be an even greater involvement with patients when it comes to how physicians deliver care. "We're trying, as an institution, to bring patient advocacy and financial toxicity to the center stage, because it's vital that we take the time to listen to our patients and their concerns." As a comprehensive approach, she is also trying to master the careful art of delivering bad news to patients: "no one can make bad news good, but there are ways to reduce the trauma of it."

Dr. Lustberg additionally integrates theMednet into her routine: "it offers such a terrific opportunity to hear from different experts throughout the country. There’s always something you can learn. It’s reassuring to see that we as physicians are all on the same wavelength, and I gain a new perspective if we aren't!"

The time that Dr. Lustberg has off the clock is spent with her family, enjoying travel, walks, and hiking together. As for advice to future physicians, she assures that oncology, "is a fantastic field. Just keep yourself open to diverse clinics, mentors, and cancers to know it's the right fit; you'll find out very quickly the perfect one for you!"

Brendan Bense

Brendan is an Editorial Assistant at theMednet, and an author for theMednet Blog. He's a Philly native, with a passion for technology, creative writing, and travel.