Faces of Cedars-Sinai: Dr. Karen Reckamp
Jul 22, 2020 Cedars-Sinai Staff
I was interested in cancer from an early age. I had several family members who had cancer when I was younger, and that left an imprint on me.
She assumed her posts at Cedars-Sinai in January. She's devoted much of her career to advancing treatment for lung cancer, especially late-stage and hard-to-treat cases. She shared with us how she became interested in treating lung cancer and what ties her different roles together.
You're wearing quite a few hats! Can you tell us about your different roles at the medical center?
Dr. Karen Reckamp: Yes! They all intersect for me because my expertise is in developing novel treatments for lung cancer. So all of these roles go well together.
As the division director for medical oncology, I oversee the administrative, clinical and research activities going on in that area. As the associate director of clinical research, I help guide our goals as they relate to research. We want to increase the number of investigator-initiated clinical trials and improve some of our processes.
In the Women's Guild Lung Institute, that role is about bringing the lung cancer perspective to the realm of pulmonary diseases. We're integrating screening and working closely with pulmonologists, radiologists, medical oncologists and surgeons to look at who may be at higher risk of cancer.
What drew you to the cancer field and to lung cancer specifically?
KR: I was interested in cancer from an early age. I had several family members who had cancer when I was younger, and that left an imprint on me. When I was in my fellowship, I was interested in bone marrow transplant. At the time, lung cancer was a difficult disease to treat, and it wasn't as intriguing biologically as some other cancers.
Then I had the chance to work with a lung cancer expert who was working in immunology with lung cancer. During that time in the lab, the EGFR gene mutation was discovered—and that changed everything.
Suddenly, lung cancer became a completely different disease. It was exciting, and I was all in. Over the past 15 years or so, lung cancer treatments have dramatically improved.
Patient survival and quality of life have improved. We understand the disease and we understand there are more types of lung cancer than you can see through a microscope.
What do you wish more people knew about lung cancer?
KR: That it's a very treatable cancer. People can live well, even on treatment. People can get back into their lives often, even with later-stage disease. And we continue to see significant advances.
And I wish people would drop the stigma. There's this idea that people have done it to themselves, and it becomes an automatic assumption—even for people who never smoked.
The stigma is huge, and I wish it would stop.
How are you coping with COVID-19 and physical distancing?
KR: We've all figured out our own spaces at home to get some work done. I'm a runner. So it's been easy to go out for a run and decrease the stress levels.
I'm enjoying seeing my family a lot more than I used to. That's been a blessing in disguise. I'm spending lots of time with my 11-year-old son, Zack, and my husband, Robert. (Dr. Robert Figlin is the Stephen Spielberg Family Chair in Hematology-Oncology at Cedars-Sinai.)
What are you looking forward to after the pandemic?
KR: Having dinner at Giorgio Baldi! It's a small Italian place that's worth going to for a big celebration.