Meet Dr. Courtney Vito: A New Addition to an Award-Winning Cancer Program

A highly respected surgical oncologist, Courtney Vito, MD, obtained her medical degree from Emory University School of Medicine and completed her fellowship training in breast surgery at Keck Medicine of USC. An expert in oncoplastic techniques, Dr. Vito was an assistant clinical professor of surgical oncology at City of Hope before becoming the medical director of Breast Surgery.

I had originally planned to become an ophthalmologist. As part of ophthalmology training, the first year out of medical school is either in general surgery or internal medicine. I chose general surgery, and I found that I really enjoyed breast surgery. Coincidentally, several friends and family members were diagnosed with breast cancer that year, so I got to experience their journey firsthand.

Unlike other types of cancer, where treatment is often standardized, there are choices in breast cancer and an art to creating the right treatment for each woman. Walking that road with someone is both sacred and profound, and both my professional and personal experiences guided me to change direction in my career.

There’s a culture here that is rare in medicine, and it creates a very high standard of patient care. You see it in the commitment and skill of the Operating Room teams and in the multidisciplinary collaboration within the Cancer Center—radiation oncologists, surgeons, medical oncologists, breast radiologists, pathologists, researchers, and breast nurse navigators all pushing to create care that is both physically and emotionally healing. You even see it in meetings with administration where the focus is “How can we support you in offering outstanding care? What do you need from us?” I can’t tell you how unique that is. It’s a small thing that reflects something important: a culture focused on constantly improving clinical outcomes. 

Breast cancer management is constantly changing. We now recognize that breast cancer is not just breast cancer but rather an entire spectrum of many types of cancers which benefit from a widely different therapy. One size no longer fits all.

We now understand that each patient and each tumor have their own unique genetic signatures and subtypes. Expanded genetic testing in people allows us to understand inherited traits that make a person more likely to have certain types of cancers. Here, we have expanded testing and made it rapidly accessible to any qualifying person coming through our breast center. This will allow doctors to work with patients on personalized screening and cancer prevention. If the person is found to have breast cancer, it allows us to tailor their treatment to their unique circumstances. We also test the genomics or genetic signatures of breast cancers, allowing us to find the best possible treatment in the safest and most effective way. In many cases, this allows us to safely exclude chemotherapy in patients who previously would have received it. 

Equally important has been the development of less invasive surgical techniques, allowing us to limit the extent of lymph node surgery, which can come with serious side effects, and perform oncoplastic surgery— marrying “onco” or cancer surgery with plastic surgery techniques. This includes skin- and nipple-sparing mastectomies as well as more aggressive lumpectomies (removing only a portion of the breast) reconstructing the native breast tissue. These techniques have outstanding clinical and cosmetic outcomes. At Providence St. Jude, we have an amazing plastic surgery team that works with us to customize, design, and perform the right surgery for each woman. Allowing patients to wake up from surgery with the tumor gone and a restored physical appearance can offer enormous psychological and emotional benefits. 

To make an appointment with Dr. Vito, please call 714-446-5296.