Behind the mask: Meet one of Charlotte’s top breast cancer oncologists

Behind the mask: Meet one of Charlotte’s top breast cancer oncologists

Photo: Atrium Health

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Our Behind the Mask series, produced in partnership with Atrium Health, tells the stories of healthcare heroes in Charlotte.

Antoinette Tan, MD, is a medical oncologist who specializes in breast cancer. She has expertise in the most challenging and rare forms of
breast cancer, including triple-negative breast cancer.

Dr. Tan is also an expert in drug development and has extensive experience with early phase clinical trials and breast cancer studies.

  • She’s been with Atrium Health for seven years.

Dr. Tan (left) and team on Pink Day. Photo: Atrium Health.

Why did you choose this specialty?

“To change the course of people’s lives through life-saving treatments, with the aim of curing the disease.

  • There was an attending physician from my medical student days that showed me the importance of ‘whole person’ care. I saw how cancer can really affect the body, mind and spirit.

Breast cancer is a treatable and curable cancer, so there’s also this great opportunity to develop long-term relationships with these patients.”

What’s a typical workday like?

“Last Wednesday, I started my day at 7 a.m. Our breast cancer team meets virtually to discuss individual patient cases and the best management plan for each.

Then I proceeded to start my clinic. My first patient was at 9 a.m., so I logged in to our virtual platform for her video appointment.

  • She’s actually a participant in a clinical trial and is getting her medication from a home health nurse. It’s a novel way to deliver treatment.

After a few more patients (virtual and in-person), I went back to my office to check lab results and call other specialists.

  • Oncology really lends itself to collaboration and working as a team. Other specialists are involved in the care of the patient, so you work together and also learn from them.

Then I had a few more meetings, including a monthly meeting with my colleagues and other care providers on our breast cancer team.”

Have you always done virtual appointments?

“No. When the pandemic hit, we had to show some resiliency and innovation to figure out how to best care for our patients.

I obviously want to see my patients in-person to examine them and hold their hands if I’m giving bad news. But I think we’ve actually benefited from the virtual option.

  • Patients may not have transportation or may want their family to join virtually.”

What is triple-negative breast cancer, and why did you decide to study it?

“It’s a type of breast cancer that’s not dependent on hormones for growth. It can be challenging to treat because patients often present at a young age, with larger tumors and at a more advanced stage.

Traditionally, the only way to treat it was with chemotherapy. So I wanted to find better treatments that have fewer side effects.

  • I saw an opportunity to get involved in studies where new drugs are being tested.”

I hear you’re working on a “destination” center at the Levine Cancer Institute. What will that be like?

“Triple-negative patients have unique needs that I feel require customized support and education. I want to have a program that is dedicated to them.

In addition, I really want to lead the research on this particular type of cancer and provide patients with access to novel treatments. 

  • These clinical trials often lead to the development of a new drug that can help an even broader group of patients.”

What’s the best part about your job?

“Taking care of my patients and getting to know them. It’s a special privilege to be involved in their lives during a really challenging time and be able to help them.

  • I’m able to form a long-term relationship with each of them and get to know their family, hobbies and vacation plans. I’ve picked up some great vacation spots from my patients.”

What do you do in your free time?

“You’ll find me on the tennis court. In the last couple of years, I’ve actually joined USTA and I’m captain of a team. We qualified to attend the North Carolina State singles championship.

  • We didn’t win, but I did have fun.”

Photo via Dr. Tan

What’s your favorite restaurant in Charlotte?

“This place called Malaya Kitchen. It’s on Providence Road. My favorite dishes are Roti Canai (Indian pancake) and the Mongolian Chicken.”

Any words of wisdom you’d like to leave our readers with?

“We’ve made really great strides in breast cancer detection, treatment and prevention. What’s essential for continued progress in our journey to cure breast cancer is early diagnosis.

All women should begin getting their mammogram screening at age 40 and then on an annual basis. It’s really our best defense against breast cancer.”

Atrium Health is bringing world-class healthcare to Charlotte with experts in a variety of specialties.

This content was created in partnership with Atrium Health. 

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