B.J. Rimel, MD: Helping the world…
B.J. Rimel, MD is a gynecologic oncologist who by dint of her abiding interest and hard work is the Medical Director of the Cancer Clinical Trials Office at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, one of the top-ranked hospitals in the U.S. There she explores ways to gain a better understanding of the relationship of genetic variants to the growth of specific types of cancers and understand why some mutation carriers develop breast, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, and other types of cancer while other carriers of the same mutations do not. Although her primary work pertains to cancers affecting women, cancers affecting men, including prostate cancer, may be impacted by this work, as the genetics of BRCA mutations of both sexes are interrelated.
Dr. Rimel earned her medical degree from Duke University and completed her residency at Northwestern. She completed her gynecologic oncology fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis, which helped refine her professional focus.
As a young physician attracted to a career in surgery, gynecologic oncology became her choice for a subspeciality, as it can provide a full spectrum of care and an integrated approach to the diagnosis and surgical management of conditions affecting the female reproductive system.
Dr. Rimel’s relationships with her patients are gratifying and provide her with enormous joy. She states that in working with patients, “every gain is a real gain and every loss is a real loss”.
Helping the world is important to Dr. Rimel. Growing up in a military family, she moved frequently, having lived in 17 states, including her current home, California. These varied experiences have deepened her awareness and appreciation of the diversity of her adopted state. Dr. Rimel has two children, ages 11 and 15. She enjoys traveling with her family – both children have already traveled to 20
countries! She loves parenting her two “fantastic humans” and can’t wait to see what is in store for them in the future. She believes they too will follow a path to help the world in some way.
In 1989, Gilda Radner, a famous and beloved television personality, died of ovarian cancer. She had been unaware that her health might be compromised by a family history of ovarian and breast cancer deaths. In 1991, Gene Wilder, her husband, spoke to the press about raising awareness of ovarian cancer and naming an ovarian cancer research center after his late wife. Dr. Beth Karlan, a Cedars-Sinai gynecologic oncologist became the first director of this program. Today the Cedars- Sinai Hereditary Cancer Programmanages one of the world’s largest registries of people who have undergone testing for genetic changes known as BRCA gene mutations.
Everyone has BRCA genes, called “tumor suppressor” genes that protect against cancer by repairing DNA damage. However, some people inherit mutated BRCA genes or acquire them through exposure to
the environment, greatly increasing the risk for different types of cancer. Women who inherit a mutated BRCA gene may develop breast cancer, ovarian cancer (or both), or pancreatic cancer at a younger than those who don’t have this mutation. Men who inherit a “pathogenic” BRCA2 mutation have an increased lifetime risk of prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and male breast cancer. (See QUEST Spring 2022 page 3, and Summer/Fall 2022 pages 1-3).
Cedars Sinai’s Gilda Hereditary Cancer Program collects and maintains information from women and men who have undergone BRCA gene testing; they have registered2862 consented patients. Of the 1331 participants consented under the current study protocol, 1307 (98.2%) are women in the Gilda study, and 24 (1.8%) are men. This research can benefit patients by helping them make informed decisions regarding testing and risk- reduction surgery and other individuals at higher risk can benefit from semi-annual or annual testing. Dr. Rimel is encouraged by the development of newer blood tests that identify and monitor cancer growth and hopes to see new opportunities and drug development that end breast and ovarian cancer as we know them today.