American Association for Cancer Research

Interview with a Leader January 2014

Worta McCaskill-Stevens, M.D.Worta McCaskill-Stevens, M.D.
Chief, Community Oncology and Prevention Trials Research Group

Dr. McCaskill-Stevens completed her medical degree and internal medicine residency at Georgetown University followed by a medical oncology fellowship at the Mayo Clinic. In 1991, she joined the Indiana University faculty as co-director of the Indiana University Breast Care and Research Center and member of the Division of Hematology and Oncology. Currently, she is chief of the Community Oncology and Prevention Trials Research Group in the Division of Cancer Prevention at the National Cancer Institute. Her clinical research focus is breast cancer prevention and related areas. She is a co-author and NCI-program director for the Study of Tamoxifen and Raloxifene and has worked to improve breast cancer risk assessment tools for African-American and Latina women. She represents the Division of Cancer Prevention on the Early Breast Cancer Clinical Trialists Group (Oxford, UK); the NCI Premalignancy Research Program Steering Committee; and was the NCI-chair of a State-of-the-Science Meeting on Ductal Carcinoma In Situ.

Dr. McCaskill-Stevens has a long interest in the participation of minorities in clinical research. She leads the Minority-Based Community Clinical Oncology Program which supports infrastructure for the conduct of NCI-sponsored treatment, cancer control and prevention clinical trials in communities with significant minority populations and which serves as a resource for research on cancer health disparities. Dr. McCaskill-Stevens serves on the National Community Cancer Centers Program's Clinical Trials and Advisory Committees. She is the director of the new NCI Community Oncology Research Program which builds on the success of the Community Clinical Oncology Program in bringing clinical trials to communities throughout the country, and expands the scope of research to include  cancer care delivery and the integration of  cancer disparities research into clinical trials and cancer care delivery studies.

She has served as a member of the FDA Immunology Devices Panel; chair of the Underserved Populations Committee and co-chair of the Breast Endocrine Committee of the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group; and chair of the Hematology/Oncology Section of the National Medical Association. She has mentored many cancer investigators in training as well as senior investigators seeking career advice. She is currently on the editorial board of the Journal for Clinical Oncology for cancer prevention. Honors and awards include: Sarah Stewart Award for Leadership in Medicine, 1985; Kaiser Family Fund Award for Excellence in Academic Achievement and Leadership in Medicine; and a member of the Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society.

Congratulations! Ebony Magazine recently named you as one of its 2013 Power 100 Health and Science Trailblazers. How does this honor make you feel?

Ebony is now in its 70th year of publication, and I recall the time when it was “the” magazine that was accessible to the Black community and that featured prominent contributions to the Black community and to the nation’s community as a whole. I am particularly pleased that there is a category for health and science and to be recognized in it. Cancer disproportionately, affects minorities and if this award for cancer research stimulates an interest among younger generations, I will feel an additional sense of pride.

What are you most passionate about professionally? What most excites you about your work and the contribution you can make? 

I am a visionary person – I love to be in the midst of new ideas and to interact with individuals who bring different perspectives to problems underlying oncology research and to the global implementation of research advances. It was my curiosity about breast cancer research that captured my interest in medical school and has sustained my passion over the years of my career.

What have you learned over your lifetime that you'd like to share with the next generation of scientists?

I have learned to listen to several messengers:  clearly those who play important roles in the development of a scientist from training and mentoring, but there is an inner message that always warrants attention. I have struggled with this over time and come to believe that it is the combination of all of these influences that results in overall success in attaining one’s goals and decision-making at critical career junctions.

What personal attribute do you think has been most important to your success?

Perseverance as manifested by an understanding that all of life’s gifts and obstacles are delivered regardless of your scientific passions and goals. Within the context of perseverance, I am able to think about ways to fulfill my curiosity through different pathways if necessary.