April Physician of the Month: Maryam Lustberg

Maryam Lustberg

Maryam Lustberg has a busy schedule.

“My clinic days, when I see patients, are Tuesdays and Fridays,” says Lustberg, MD, MPH, a medical oncologist and breast cancer specialist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).

Mondays and Thursdays are reserved for research and meetings with her colleagues, while Wednesdays are devoted to her growing number of administrative duties. Lustberg is the medical director of survivorship for the OSUCCC – James and the director for breast cancer survivorship for the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center. She’s also a member of the Cancer Control Research Program, which specializes in the identification of molecular, genetic and behavioral factors associated with cancer.

“And then there are nights and weekends for exploring new ideas and research,” Lustberg says. “I love the variety of what I do, and I feel very excited about new projects and bringing new ideas here.”

This devotion to her patients, research and cutting-edge ideas, as well as her versatile skill-set, are among the reasons Lustberg is the OSUCCC – James Physician of the Month for April.

Improving treatment, in and out of the hospital

Lustberg’s research includes a clinical trial investigating how social factors such as loneliness impact breast cancer patients’ levels of PTEN, a natural tumor-suppressing protein.

“Patients with more social support do better, and we’re trying to understand the mechanism behind this so we can design better interventions,” she says.

Lustberg’s efforts to improve patients’ reactions to treatments also include investigations of the toxicity of chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

“The goal is to help patients tolerate these treatments better so they can receive them for longer periods and have better outcomes,” she says.

As part of that work, Lustberg will soon lead a new clinical trial that will investigate chemotherapy-induced neuropathy in the extremities (hands and feet), a common side effect for cancer patients, the symptoms of which include numbness, extreme sensitivity and a burning sensation in the fingers or toes.

Lustberg is also a leader in the OSUCCC – James’ growing commitment to adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer patients.

“We’re building a two-center program with Nationwide Children’s Hospital to improve the care for these patients,” she says.

Lifelong support through survivorship services

The link that connects all of Lustberg’s professional pursuits is the concept of survivorship.

“Survivorship starts from day one of a cancer diagnosis and continues for the rest of a patient’s life,” she says, adding that there are a multitude of services in the OSUCCC – James’ supportive care cancer line, grouped in four primary areas: psychosocial oncology (counseling), cancer rehabilitation, fertility preservation and sexual health.

“It takes a multi-disciplinary team, and to a large extent, the scope and scale of services you need are only available at a large, comprehensive cancer center like the one here,” Lustberg says.

“This is the place for you”

Lustberg was born in Iran and moved to Maryland with her parents when she was 10. From an early age, she knew she wanted to be a physician, eventually majoring in biochemistry and English literature at the University of Maryland, where she earned a prestigious predoctoral training award with the National Cancer Institute during her senior year.

Working at the NCI led to her interest in oncology, a career path that was further established during medical school and her residency.

“I felt a very strong connection to cancer patients,” says Lustberg, who began to focus on breast cancer during her residency. “This is such a vulnerable and frightening time for patients, and as a physician, I could see how taking the extra time to listen and hear their stories could make such a difference.”

Lustberg married her husband, Mark, during the final year of their residencies, and the new couple was recruited by several leading medical centers.

“The director of the cancer center at Maryland knew the leaders of (the OSUCCC – James) and said, ‘This is the place for you,’” Lustberg says.

Mark Lustberg, MD, is an infectious disease specialist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. The couple has a five-year-old son, Andrew.

“Cancer research and treatment are evolving so rapidly. I want our patients to have access to all these new ideas, and for (the OSUCCC – James) to continue to be a leader in new research and treatment,” Lustberg says. “That’s what drives me, because ultimately everything we do is to improve the experience and outcome for all of our patients and their families.”