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Theodora Ross, M.D., Ph.D.
Theodora Ross, M.D., Ph.D.

Theodora Ross, M.D., Ph.D.

  • Jeanne Ann Plitt Professorship in Breast Cancer Research
  • H. Ben and Isabelle T. Decherd Chair in Internal Medicine, in Honor of Henry M. Winans, Sr., M.D.
  • Internal Medicine - Hematology/Oncology
  • Breast Cancers
  • Cancer Genetics

Biography

Theodora Ross, M.D., Ph.D., holds the Jeanne Ann Plitt Professorship in Breast Cancer Research and the H. Ben and Isabelle T. Decherd Chair in Internal Medicine, in Honor of Henry M. Winans, Sr., M.D. at UT Southwestern Medical Center. She specializes in cancer genetics.

Dr. Ross received her M.D. and Ph.D. from the Washington University Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) in St. Louis. She completed her medical residency in Boston at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, followed by a fellowship in oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Prior to joining UT Southwestern, Dr. Ross served as a clinician and researcher at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where for many years she cared for women with breast cancer and investigated the basic cellular mechanisms of cancer cells and how those cells resist targeted cancer drugs. 

Her laboratory at UT Southwestern continues this research and also investigates BRCA1, a breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility gene. In her clinical practice, Dr. Ross cares for individuals at a high genetic risk for any type of cancer. She also serves as the director of the UT Southwestern Cancer Genetics Program. 

Outside of her official job, Dr. Ross has been a strong advocate for funding of basic cancer research. From 1997 to 2003, she served as president of Boston’s “Concert for the Cure,” a nonprofit organization that raises money for basic breast cancer research. In addition, she uses her experience with the Washington University and University of Michigan Medical Scientist Training Programs to help recruit for and grow UT Southwestern’s MSTP initiative, which trains the next generation of physician scientists.

Dr. Ross is a member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, American Society of Hematology, American Association for Cancer Research, and American Society for Clinical Investigation. She also serves on the Board of Consulting Editors for the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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Meet Dr. Ross

Cancer Geneticist

Theodora Ross, M.D., Ph.D., helps people understand what their genes might be telling them about their risk for cancer.

Dr. Ross directs UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Cancer Genetics Program, which sees more than 2,000 patients every year. The physicians and genetic counselors in the Cancer Genetics Clinic help patients assess their risk for many types of cancer, including kidney, skin, lung, breast, ovarian, colon, endocrine and prostate cancers.

Twenty years ago, this type of work would have been impossible.

“Back then, this type of clinic didn’t exist; we didn’t know how to use the genetic information that we had,” says Dr. Ross. “Today we do. And we can save people’s lives. It’s such an exciting time.”

People who have a family history of cancer come to the Cancer Genetics Clinic to work with Dr. Ross and a genetic counselor. If a known genetic predisposition to cancer is found, Dr. Ross and her team counsel the patient about the best ways to prevent cancer from ever forming.

Patients who already have cancer also benefit from genetic testing, Dr. Ross says.

“Genetic testing can help us make important decisions about the best method of treatment. For breast cancer, for example, we can do a quick test to determine whether patients have a certain mutation, which could help decide whether they will have bilateral mastectomy versus just a lumpectomy.”

In addition, genetic testing can help physicians determine which chemotherapy to recommend, and whether an investigational drug might be warranted.

Dr. Ross is also a scientist, and she leads a laboratory that investigates how cells transform from normal cells to cancer cells, and how some cancer cells are able to withstand specifically targeted cancer drugs. One of her main areas of investigation is the BRCA1 gene, which – when abnormal – predisposes women to breast and ovarian cancer.

Dr. Ross says she’s passionate about combining fundamental scientific research with medicine because there is still so much to learn about how the genes we inherit affect the potential development of cancer.

“Whether or not a variant in any gene causes disease is the big question we still need to answer in many cases,” she says. “There are 25,000 genes in our genome, and our studies have shed light on only about 6,000 of them. And of those, we know only about 100 genes that cause cancer when they’re faulty.”

While that means there’s still a lot to learn about the human genome and cancer, Dr. Ross says it also means that another revolution in cancer genetics is just around the corner.

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Education & Training
  • Research Fellowship - Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (1997-1999), Oncology
  • Fellowship - Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (1995-1998), Oncology
  • Residency - Harvard/Brigham and Women's Hospital (1993-1995), Internal Medicine
  • Medical School - Washington University School of Medicine (1985-1993)
Professional Associations & Affiliations
  • American Society of Hematology (1999)
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology (1999)
  • American Association for Cancer Research (1999)
  • American Society for Clinical Investigation (2004)
Honors & Awards
  • Alpha Omega Alpha 1992
  • American Cancer Society Oncology Fellow 1995
  • American Society of Hematology Scholar 1999
  • Damon Runyon Scholar 2000
  • Jerome W. Conn Award for Excellence in Research 2004, University of Michigan
  • Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Scholar 2005
  • Clinical Scientist Award 2008, Burroughs Wellcome Fund
Books & Publications
Research
  • Tyrosine Kinase Oncogenes and their Roles in Leukemia Initiation, Maintenance and Drug Resistance
  • Genetics of Cancer Predisposition
  • Endocytosis and Cancer
  • Cellular Consequences of BRCA1 Mutations

Clinical Focus

  • Breast Cancers
  • Cancer Genetics

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Q&A by Theodora Ross, M.D., Ph.D.

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