Renowned breast cancer surgeon joins Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center
July 11, 2017 | Jacksonville, FL
Whether in the operating room or on her bike, Dr. Beth-Ann Lesnikoski wants patients to feel 'whole and healthy again.'
As a Yale University undergrad, Beth-Ann Lesnikoski chose architecture as her major, but her heart was always pulling her toward medical school. Her dad was a pharmacist and scrub tech in the U.S. Army. Her mom was an OR nurse whose four sisters were also nurses.
At Temple University School of Medicine, Lesnikoski thought she'd be a pediatrician. But then came a rotation that included breast surgery, followed by a mid-1990s clinical fellowship on diseases of the breast at the Faulkner Breast Centre in Boston. It was one of the first of only three breast fellowships in the U.S.
"I felt like I plugged into an electrical socket. It was just right and I have felt that way ever since," she recalled.
Now 55 and a breast surgeon for 20 years, Dr. Lesnikoski brings that same passion to her position as the new director of the breast program at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Helping breast cancer patients goes far beyond the operating room, she said. The relationships are long term.
"With breast surgery, you really get to know people and you take them from their darkest days to really some of their brightest days," she said. "Breast cancer is very curable. Most patients will survive and thrive. It's really great to see people come around to that other side. That's one of the most gratifying things."
Keeping patients close
At Baptist MD Anderson, Dr. Lesnikoski will oversee a program of comprehensive breast health and cancer treatment in the community, so patients are close to their families and support networks.
"It's not just about taking a tumor out," she said. "It's so much more than that to get someone to feel whole and happy and healthy again, like they've conquered the world.
"We need to model our programs with a variety of options for patients," she added. "There is no one size fits all. We are learning how to give less radiation and still be effective and we are learning how to use immunotherapy in addition to chemotherapy or sometimes instead of chemotherapy."
In her new position, Dr. Lesnikoski looks forward to collaborating with the team of other board-certified surgeons who are performing breast surgeries at Baptist.
Developing breast health programs has been at the center of Dr. Lesnikoski's career. For the past eight years, she has served as founding medical director of The Breast Institute at JFK Medical Center in Atlantis, Fla.
Previously, she was the founding medical director at South Shore Hospital Breast Care Center in Massachusetts. Dr. Lesnikoski helped develop a joint cancer center between South Shore, Dana- Farber Cancer Institute and the Brigham & Women's Hospital. She was an attending breast surgeon for 10 years at both Dana-Farber and Brigham, and at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for five years.
Before moving to Florida in 2009, she spent 20 years as an instructor at Harvard Medical School. Nationally, she also is a surveyor for the Commission on Cancer and the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers.
As a surgeon, Dr. Lesnikoski uses techniques similar to those of plastic surgeons when performing a lumpectomy or other procedures to restore the natural appearance of the breast.
Oncoplastic surgery combines the latest plastic surgery techniques with breast surgical oncology.
"There is a lot of artistry that appeals to the side of me that was attracted to architecture," she said, adding that she still dabbles in architecture by doing interior design and structural work on houses she has owned.
Dr. Lesnikoski's passion for cancer awareness started with her parents, who were active in church and school events. Her father, who died from melanoma, was a longtime volunteer and leader in the American Cancer Society.
"Becoming involved with the American Cancer Society was a natural fit for me to carry on his legacy," she said. "He became involved after my aunt died of cancer at 42. She was the first of 17 of my relatives who have had cancer. I've lost three cousins in their 40s to the disease, as well as aunts and uncles."
When she's not in the operating room or serving on various state and national cancer committees, she's listening to her husband, a Grammy-nominated musician, and cycling several times a week.
Dr. Lesnikoski has cycled in many charitable events, including a solo, 65-day cross-country ride that raised money for a cancer support group. In May, she participated in the American Cancer Society's four-day Florida Hope Ride from Tampa to Jacksonville.
"Many people aren't aware that maintaining a healthy weight, diet and exercise regimen can reduce the risk of getting cancer and improve the odds of survival for those affected," she said. "Long distance charity rides combine my love of the outdoors and cycling with my passion to raise awareness and end this deadly disease."
For information on Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center go to baptistmdanderson.com or call 1.844.632.2278. To learn more about breast screenings or to schedule a mammogram, go to baptistjax.com/breast-center or call 904.202.2222.