A nationally renowned surgeon and women’s cancer expert, Leslie R. Boyd, MD, has led various initiatives in gynecologic surgery, creating complex surgical plans to remove extensive ovarian, cervical, or endometrial cancer, specializing in robotic-assisted minimally invasive surgery. In March 2021, she was named director of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology, part of NYU Langone’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Perlmutter Cancer Center.
Dr. Boyd has an exceptional record of patient outcomes and a history of leadership and expertise in investigating best practices and outcomes in gynecologic surgery, identifying disparities in care for patients with gynecologic cancer, and investigating novel chemotherapy options for gynecologic cancers. She discusses her new role, advances in treatment for people with gynecologic cancers, her outreach work educating those at high risk for ovarian cancer, and more.
Tell us about your new role as director of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology.
We have three major goals in the division: to be at the forefront of clinical medicine, to create the research that new treatments are based on, and to act as leaders and educators for the next generation of oncologists. I have an incredible faculty, each of whom helps to further our mission with their expertise. Being able to support each of them, to help them grow to their greatest potential, is a terrific job.
What are some of the advances in treatments for gynecologic cancers?
This is a very interesting time in terms of cancer drug development, and thanks to our head of gynecologic oncology research, Dr. Bhavana Pothuri (professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and director of gynecologic oncology clinical trials), NYU Langone is a leading institution for gynecologic cancer clinical trials. Immunotherapy, which has shown utility in melanoma and other cancers for years, is now emerging as an important part of the armamentarium for gynecologic cancers. We were a part of the phase 3 EMPOWER-Cervical 1/GOG-3016/ENGOT-cx9 study, a large international trial looking at immunotherapy for cervical cancer, and we were one of the top accruers in the United States. The trial showed that overall survival was significantly improved with the immunotherapy agent cemiplimab compared to patients who received chemotherapy alone in the recurrent setting for cervical cancer. That was a practice-changing clinical trial that we were happy to be a part of. We have been part of phase 2 trials using immunotherapy in patients with endometrial cancer and currently have a phase 3 trial open looking at the addition of immunotherapy to standard chemotherapy for patients with advanced or recurrent endometrial cancer. We are very proud to be able to offer cutting-edge treatment options to our patients.
We are fortunate to have world-class cancer researchers who are dedicated to understanding the biology behind ovarian cancer. Dr. Kari Hacker (clinical assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology) is a physician–scientist who is working under the tutelage of Dr. Benjamin Neel (professor in the Department of Medicine and director of Perlmutter Cancer Center). They are finding new ways to model how the immune system handles ovarian cancer and creating better animal models to test effective drugs. Using results generated in the Neel Lab, Dr. Hacker is working on a clinical trial that will combine chemotherapy and immunotherapy for patients with certain ovarian cancers. This is the ideal synergy between bench research and clinical medicine—finding new information about how the cancer works and putting it to use for the benefit of our patients. That’s how we can move the field forward.
Can you tell us about your work with Tina’s Wish?
Tina’s Wish is a foundation that was established after the death of Judge Tina Brozman (former chief judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York). She was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer and unfortunately died relatively soon after her diagnosis, which is not uncommon for this type of cancer. Her dying wish was to work for the early detection of ovarian cancer so that what happened to her wouldn’t happen to other women. The foundation is very effective in providing outreach, in the hopes that better information will get women to the right doctors sooner. I give lectures and participate in discussions to talk about the symptoms of ovarian cancer. Around 15 percent of women who develop ovarian cancer are at high risk, often due to their family history. In these cases, early identification allows us to initiate effective prevention strategies, including risk-reducing surgery. I want to get the word out to these women, so that they can receive potentially lifesaving treatments.
What should people with gynecologic cancers expect when they seek care at Perlmutter Cancer Center?
We get a lot of positive feedback from our patients. This is New York City—our patients are savvy, smart healthcare consumers. They want the best for themselves and their family members. And what I hear back from our patients is that the combination of knowledge, compassion, and personalized care that they get at Perlmutter Cancer Center is unlike any other.
From time to time our patients will get outside opinions—we encourage our patients to feel free to learn as much as they can about different treatment options. When they come back to us, we often hear the same refrain: that the care at other centers doesn’t feel personalized to them. Our patients feel that they have a great connection with us, that we are invested in them personally, and that we will consider their treatments in the context of their full lives. That’s the kind of care we are continually striving to deliver, and it is very rewarding to hear that reflected back.