Renowned Cancer Doctor to Give Bernard Fisher Lecture at Pitt Medical School

Issue Date: 
February 25, 2008

Holland talk to focus on Human Mammary Tumor Virus

James F. Holland, a leading authority on medical oncology and cancer biology who is investigating a viral cause of human breast cancer, will deliver the 2008 Bernard Fisher Lecture at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine on Feb. 27.

Holland, a distinguished professor of neoplastic diseases at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, will speak at 3:30 p.m. in Auditorium Six, Scaife Hall. The title of his talk is “HMTV, The Human Mammary Tumor Virus.” The event is free and open to the public, and a reception will follow the lecture in Room 1105 Scaife Hall.

The lecture is named in honor of Bernard Fisher, Pitt’s pioneering breast cancer researcher.

“Holland is one of the nation’s authoritative figures when it comes to cancer research and clinical care. His career has been dedicated to searching for a cure for cancer, and he continues that pursuit even now, when others would be satisfied to pass the baton to the next generation of oncology experts,” said Arthur S. Levine, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine at Pitt.

Holland is studying the possibility that HMTV, a variation of a virus that causes breast cancer in common household mice, might account for approximately one-third of human breast cancer cases in the United States. Moreover, Holland and colleagues have found that the incidence of human breast cancer varies in different parts of the world, depending on the regional prevalence of the mouse species, mus domesticus. In Asia, for instance, where the house mouse in question is not commonly found, the virus seems to play a very small role in causing breast cancer, Holland said. While viruses have been implicated in several other types of cancer, including cervical cancer and—based on recent research at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute—a rare but deadly skin cancer, Holland’s research on HMTV continues to clarify the virus’ origins and how it might be spread.

Holland is a graduate of Princeton University and Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. After early work at the National Cancer Institute and Roswell Park Cancer Institute, he joined the faculty of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where he served as professor and founding chair of the Department of Neoplastic Diseases for 20 years. He, Emil Freireich, and Emil Frei III are credited with first using combination chemotherapy in patients to successfully treat acute leukemia. This strategy, for which they won the 1972 Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research, was initiated in the 1950s and soon gained wide acceptance as a template for treating numerous other cancers with a regimen of several drugs administered simultaneously.

Fisher, a 1943 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, has served as Distinguished Service Professor of Surgery at Pitt since 1986. He is a founding member and past chairman and scientific director of the Pittsburgh-based National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project, the research consortium that he chaired from 1967 to 1994. From 1955 to 1968, he directed the Laboratory of Surgical Research, which he founded at the University.

Fisher is best known for overturning the prevailing paradigm that breast cancer metastasizes in an orderly and sequential way from the breast to neighboring lymph nodes before any further spread—a paradigm that had led to radical mastectomy as standard treatment for this disease. Instead, after almost two decades of laboratory investigation related to the biology of tumor metastasis, he proposed that breast cancer is a systemic disease that metastasizes unpredictably. Using randomized clinical trials, Fisher found that radical mastectomy was no more effective than total mastectomy and, in turn, that total mastectomy was no more effective than lumpectomy in treating breast cancer.

Fisher went on to show the effectiveness of adjuvant chemotherapy and hormonal therapy (tamoxifen) in treating breast cancer as a systemic disease not cured by surgery alone. In subsequent studies related to breast cancer prevention, Fisher also found that tamoxifen can substantially reduce the incidence of breast cancer in high-risk women.